“Say again Sir,” the radio operator
pushed the earphone snugly to his ear and leaned into it holding
it tight. Desperately he tried to understand the garbled words coming
across the receiver. The communication was abruptly cut off and
he grumbled in frustration, doing his best to piece together the
meaning of the words he’d managed to hear. He scribbled the
meaningless words on a scrap of paper before he handed it to the
dark haired man hovering over his shoulder.
“This is it?” the second man
asked in confusion as he read the note.
“I’m sorry sir; I could barely
hear the words before the line went dead.”
He stood staring at the paper in his hand,
making his way slowly back to his office. “Critical you bring
him, … Dangerous. What the hell is this supposed to mean,”
he fumed. Punching away at the keyboard he waited as the file he
had requested became available. His finger traced a line across
the monitor. The few cryptic bits of information were almost as
bad as the message handed to him in the communications center. The
face on the screen was emotionless and unreadable, the eyes as cold
as ice as they stared into the camera. It was a mug shot nothing
more, but at least he would be able to identify the individual.
He sighed in resentment at the magnitude of the task laid out before
him. A plan was forming in his mind. He stopped short wondering
if he and his crew were up to the challenge. He wasn’t as
thrilled with the plan as he should have been, but he couldn’t
seem to find a better approach. It was going to be a long couple
of days. Calling his team together he set his makeshift plan in
Silver Star Hotel
Hermosa Beach, CA 0945 hrs
The morning had started out peacefully. He’d
even managed to sleep in a little, but restlessness had pulled him
from his bed at 7 am. In the corner booth he sat quietly sipping
his coffee. Above the rim of his cup he watched Candy the new bartender.
At the moment she was cleaning and scrubbing the counter top and
putting away the squeaky-clean glasses and mugs.
The knock on the door made him grunt it was
too early for customers, but it wasn’t unusual, the bar took
deliveries at all hours of the day.
The brown suited man walked in carrying a
small package and a clipboard. Benny Ray frowned at the clipboard;
he didn’t think they used those things anymore. It was usually
some hand held computer snapped to their belt. Candy listened intently,
nodding across the room toward Benny Ray. Holding up the clipboard
for Candy the gray-eyed deliveryman caught Benny Ray’s eyes
on him. His expression was unreadable and Benny Ray tensed something
in the man’s stance made him uneasy. As the clipboard tilted
Benny Ray caught the black bulk held beneath it. He flew to his
feet and pulled the Glock from the back waist of his pants as the
man grabbed Candy. Dropping the clipboard a 9mm came up and buried
itself into the side of the surprised woman’s head. Using
her as a shield he faced the deadly sniper standing in front of
He had a shot; he could have - no should
have taken it as six men came rushing into the bar. Benny Ray growled
deep in his throat. The odds were definitely against him now. He
might have stood a chance of taking one man down and saving Candy,
but with six men to contend with… He left the though unfinished
as he focused on the deliveryman.
The bar grew deathly quiet; only Candy’s
tiny whimpers could be heard echoing through the room.
“What the hell do you want,”
Benny Ray asked quietly. His face unreadable, he watched the man
carefully, but was fully aware of the others as they moved to surround
“You Mr. Riddle,” he snapped,
“Now put the weapon down on the table and no one will get
Benny Ray could see the determination on
the man’s face, but his finger was hovering over the trigger
and not wrapped around it, and that confused the hell out of him.
What the hell was going on? He could feel the frustration and see
the flickering of indecision in the eyes of the men surrounding
him. Confused by their actions he knew something wasn’t right,
four of the six men again had their fingers hovering over the trigger
the fifth had his finger on the trigger but the weapon was actually
pointing left and not centered on Benny Ray. The sixth was the only
one who looked like he wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.
Benny Ray’s weapon never wavered. Rock
solid in his hand it was aimed at the ringleader’s head as
his eyes wandered over the rest of the men. Turning back he caught
a flicker of apprehension and pleading in the depth of the man’s
gray eyes. Torn between anger and curiosity at this poor excuse
for a kidnapping, Benny Ray quickly came to a decision he knew he’d
The light of battle was in his eyes; the
set to his jaw spelled disaster for him and his men, yet suddenly
it all changed. Hargrove saw it then, the confusion in those steely
eyes as he looked at his attackers. It was something Hargrove hadn’t
expected to see from such a dangerous man. Their quarry capitulated.
As suddenly as death had stared him in the face it was swept away.
Hargrove was grateful but he had to wonder why!
His body relaxed as his finger came off the
trigger of the Glock. Benny Ray slowly straightened up and laid
his weapon on the table beside him. He could see the relief in the
man’s eyes. Benny Ray quickly regretted his decision as the
others moved in. Pinning his arms behind his back they roughly pushed
him to the floor. “Hey take it easy on him,” the leader
growled. “The man wants him in one piece. Just tie him up
and knock him out.”
“Who wants me?” Benny Ray yelled
as he fought the men holding him down. But an answer failed to materialize.
With five men on top of him Benny Ray could
barely breath, groaning he watched a white cloth descend. With a
quick lunge he sank his teeth into the man’s hand. He could
taste the coppery tang of blood and heard the man’s yelp of
pain. Quickly from above him a knee clamped down on his neck and
shoulders pinning his head to the floor. He could smell the ether
that permeated the white cloth but pinned as he was he was unable
to avoid it as it was pressed over his nose and mouth. He growled
angrily and held his breath but knew in the long run it was inevitable.
The drug soon took effect and he slipped into the darkness, unsure
what his future would hold.
“Damn Jason that hurt,” the man
with the torn hand growled as he looked at the leader.
“Sorry Mike,” Jason replied sincerely
glancing at the injured man. “Get that taken care of and meet
us at the airport.”
“Yes Sir,” the man cried. Pulling
a few napkins off a table he pressed them to the gash in his hand.
It bled freely soaking the white cloth as he headed out the door.
“Denny, Carl you guys tie him up,”
Jason ordered pointing to Benny Ray, “And get him out to the
van. Pete you and Paul take little Miss Muffet here and tie her
up. Put her in that room over there. When you’re done lock
the place up and haul ass out to the airport.”
Though Candy was terrified, her mind had
been working furiously trying to figure out what was happening.
That they wanted Benny Ray was obvious, why they wanted him was
not. At least she had some names and knew they were headed for the
airport. She prayed Matt would come back soon. Struggling she kicked
and squirmed as the two men took her in hand and hauled her into
Matt’s office. She wanted desperately to slow them down in
the hope that someone would find them. Her hopes died as the men
quickly tied her hands and feet before covering her mouth with a
piece of gray duct tape. Locking her in the closet they secured
the front door behind them as they made their way to a waiting car.
Inside the closet tears roll down Candy’s
cheeks as her feet pounded against the locked door of the closet.
“Matt, where are you,” she cried silently?
LAX – Executive terminal
The dark blue van rolled into place beside
a large jet. The side door stood open and two men wearing dark suits
and sunglasses waited at the bottom of the steps. They rushed forward
as the back door to the van flew open. Benny Ray’s unconscious
body had been placed in a trunk, secure against prying eyes. The
two men carried the trunk from the van up the steps into the plane.
Jason stepped out of the van heaving a sigh
of relief. The task was done the package on its way. He just hoped
it arrived in time to do whatever needed to be done.
Waving his men on board the plane, he yelled
to the pilot. “Let’s get this thing off the ground Harry
we have a deadline to meet.”
“Well, get your ass in here Jason and
I will,” Harry shouted back.
Silver Star Bar
Hermosa Beach, Ca
Walking up to the front entrance of the bar
Matt leaned his shoulder into the door. When it failed to give beneath
the pressure he swore softly and tried banging it with his knee,
his arms were filled with packages and supplies for the bar. His
frustration grew when Candy failed to come running and open the
door. Huffing in annoyance he laid the packages down and fished
in his pocket for the key. Grumbling he fitted the key into the
lock and opened the door. “Candy,” he yelled into the
Swearing volumes he pulled the packages inside
and plopped them on a table. That’s when his eyes caught the
overturned chair in the corner of the bar. Rushing across the room
he spotted Benny Ray’s Glock sitting on the table where he
had left it. A shiver of apprehension coursed through him as he
saw the tiny pool of blood on the floor near the table. “Benny
Ray,” he yelled. “Dammit,” Matt grumbled, “Can’t
leave him alone for five minutes.” Heading for the stairs
he heard the distant sounds of thumping. Poised above the stairs
he listened intently. As the thump sounded again Matt ran for his
office. Throwing the door open he heard the thumping, but this time
from the closet behind the desk.
Wrenching the door open he flipped on the
light, “Candy,” he mumbled in horror as he saw his pretty
bartender lying in the bottom of the closet trussed up like a turkey.
Quickly he pulled the tape from her mouth. But the words were incomprehensible
as she hiccupped and tried to talk at the same time.
“Whoa, whoa,” he whispered, “Take
a deep breath and start again.”
Her eyes were wide with fear and confusion
but Candy did as he requested, taking a deep breath to calm herself
she started again. “Men, Matt, lots of them came in with guns
and took Benny Ray away.”
Untying her hands and ankles Matt lifted
Candy to her feet settling her into a comfortable chair beside his
desk. Sitting on the corner of his desk his hand rested comfortingly
on her shoulder as he spoke softly, “Start at the beginning
and tell me what happened.”
“A delivery guy knocked on the door,
he had a package and clipboard and everything. When he came in he
asked for Benny Ray. He was sitting in his usual place drinking
coffee. When I pointed him out the guy pulled a gun and grabbed
me. That’s when the rest of the men came rushing in. Benny
Ray was pissed and even he had a gun. I thought he was going to
shoot the guy Matt. I’d never seen him look like that before.”
Matt could hear the fear in the quavering
voice as she described the scene. Benny Ray in full battle mode
was a sight to behold and Candy had witnessed it first hand. The
expressive eyes must have sparked fire during the ensuing confrontation.
“Go on Candy, what happened after that?”
“I don’t really know, all of
a sudden he just gave up, put down his weapon and let them take
him. The men rushed him and tied him up. They used some kind of
drug on a white cloth. When they took him away he was wasn’t
“Did they say anything else, maybe
where they were taking him or who they were taking him to?
Something in Candy’s brain clicked
and she answered quickly. “The leader, I think Jason was his
name said they were to take him to the airport. Benny Ray bit one
of them. His name was Mack or Mike.” Frantically Candy twisted
her hands wracking her brain trying to remember the names of the
kidnappers. She’d been trapped in the closet for two hours
wondering if they would come back and finish her off. She was safe
now, she knew it but still she couldn’t seem to calm down.
“Take your time Candy I’m going
to make a few calls.” Stepping away from the desk Matt pulled
his cell phone out and dialed the numbers that would send out a
message to the rest of his team. The fourth number he dialed connected
him to an unfamiliar voice. “Mr. Trout’s office,”
was the reply.
“Where’s Trout?” Matt asked
“I’m sorry but Mr. Trout is out
of the office and can’t be reached at this time.”
“Dammit,” he swore softly. “I
need to talk to him now!”
“I’m sorry Sir; I can take a
message and give it to him next time he checks in.”
Fuming Matt snapped his jaw in frustration,
“Fine,” he ground out, “Tell him to call Matt
Shepherd.” Without waiting for a reply Matt hung up and turned
back to Candy, but a knock on the door interrupted. Without waiting
the person on the other side entered.
“All right Matt,” a feminine
voice asks, “What is it this time?
“Let’s wait for the others Margo
and I’ll explain what I know and right now it isn’t
Margo could see the apprehension in his eyes
and that set her own nerves jangling. The tear-streaked face of
Candy made her pause. What ever it was had Matt on edge and that
was bad. Usually pretty cool under pressure Matt was rattled and
it took a lot to rattle the ex-Special Forces Major.
It was another ten minutes before Chance
and CJ rolled through the door. Their expressions were serious as
they walked into the office having seen the overturned chair and
blood in the bar.
“All right people,” Matt said.
“I’ll meet you downstairs in a few minutes.”
“Are we going to start without Benny
Ray?” CJ questioned.
Matt grimaced and Candy gave a little cry
as her eyes flew to Matt’s.
“We’ll take about it in a few
minutes; I’ll meet you downstairs in five.”
“Roger Sir!” Chance answered
as he steered CJ out the door.
“Candy, I need you to keep this to
yourself, can you do that?” Matt asked softly as he looked
into her eyes.
“Shouldn’t we call the police?”
she asked quickly. “Maybe they know something or can help
“I don’t think so Candy, it’s
been hours and you said yourself they were taking him to the airport.
Calling the police now would only cause more problems. Please Candy
will you do this for me?” Matt pleaded.
Taking a deep breath Candy rolled the whole
situation around in her head before answering. Her eyes searched
the man’s standing in front of her. She saw pain and determination
written there. “Sure Matt, I promise, cross my heart,”
she whispered with a tight grim little smile.
Leaning down he brushed a kiss across her
tear streaked cheek whispering. “Thanks Candy.”
Resting her hand on his arm before he could
move away she spoke softly, “Will you let me know if you hear
anything, Matt, please? I don’t know if that man would have
shot me or not, but I think Benny Ray gave himself up because of
Winking, Matt smiled saying, “I’ll
let you know the minute we find out anything.” Now why don’t
you lock up, put the closed sign on the door and head for home?”
“Are you sure Matt? I’m ok really!”
“I’m sure,” he answered,
“Now scoot, I have a friend to find.”
Matt waited in his office until he heard
the front door close. Checking to make sure it was locked Matt hurried
down the stairs.
Three pairs of worried eyes turn to his as
he stepped into the room.
“So what in bloody hell has Benny Ray
done now Major?” CJ quipped.
Matt’s eyes were hard as he looked
at his demolitions expert. “Benny Ray was kidnapped over two
hours ago. He was drugged and from what Candy said, put on an airplane
bound for who know where.”
Three voices ring out in alarm, bombarding
Matt with questions. Holding his hands up for silence he nodded
his head as CJ apologized, “Sorry about the comment Major,
I was only trying to lighten the mood.”
“Forget it CJ!” Pacing in front
of the table Matt spoke quietly, “I’ve called Trout
but he’s not in DC and his secretary wouldn’t tell me
where he’s gone. All I get is his voice mail when I call his
Matt told them everything he knew but somehow
it didn’t seem to be enough. Running his hands through his
hair he pounded the top of the table with his fist, his frustration
easy to see. “Margo I want you to go through every mission
file and see what you can dig up. CJ you’re with Margo. Chance,
you head for Benny Ray’s place. Maybe there’s something
there that will give us a clue as to who took him.”
“Roger Sir,” Chance echoed as
he headed for the stairs.
“What about you Matt?” Margo
asked quietly her eyes mirroring the concern in his as she watched
him clench and unclench his fists. It took him a moment to answer
as he contemplated his next move. “I’m going to call
in a few favors Margo and hope it turns up some information.”
“We’ll find him Major,”
“I know CJ, but there’s something
going on here that scares the hell out of me.”
His expression was bleak as Matt headed up
the stairs toward his office.
Somewhere over the Atlantic
The plane was well on its way to its destination
when Benny Ray slowly regained consciousness. His head throbbed,
and his stomach roiled, silently he groaned into the pillow beneath
his head. Slitting one eye open he could see a contingent of men
seated around the plane, most of the faces were familiar, but a
little bit more muscle had been added to the company. Closing his
eyes he worked the ropes binding his wrists. He could feel the coarse
material biting deep into his skin, but he continued to work. Ignoring
the discomfort he soon felt the trickle of warm blood slide down
his arm. It was nearly thirty minutes before he felt the ropes begin
to stretch and loosen.
From a few feet away he could hear the voice
of his jailers. Pretending sleep he waited.
Jason stood barely three feet away looking
down into the face of his hostage. His clever mind was working overtime
as he asked, “Mike, how longs’ he supposed to be out?”
Getting out of his seat Mike took a few steps
to stand beside Jason before looking at his watch. “To tell
you the truth he should have come to an hour ago.” Leaning
down Mike checked for a pulse and shrugged, “I don’t
know Jase, he could be faking it for all I know.”
“Dammit,” Jason swore softly,
“We’ve got another ten hours to go and I don’t
want him coming to and causing trouble. See if you can wake him
up, if not, keep a close eye on him. If he shows even the slightest
sign of waking up, dose him again.”
“Yes boss,” the man said wearily.
Benny Ray lay still and silent, but he knew
sooner or later they were going to figure out he was awake. Even
as Mike shook his shoulder he remained limp and silent. He could
hear the man mumbling beneath his breath, but was unable to make
out the words. Mike shook him again only harder this time, which
only set Benny Ray’s head to pounding.
Mike growled a few more times before turning
away. “Hey Carl, keep an eye on him will ya, if he wakes up
let me know.”
“Sure Mike,” another voice rang
out close by. Looking up Carl saw Mike’s wan pale face. His
eyebrows rose in concern as he asked, “Hey man you ok?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Mike,
mumbled settling his aching hand in his lap.
“How’s the hand?” Carl
“Took three stitches, and it hurts
like hell, besides that the dam doc gave me a tetanus shot and I
can’t hardly lift my arm. What the hell are we doing this
for Carl?” Mike mumbled. “Do you know what’s going
on? Something sure has Jason on edge.”
“Not a clue Mike. Jase is keeping this
op close. I sure would like to know though. I’ve never kidnapped
anyone before. It wasn’t in my job description,” he
joked, “How bout you?”
“Nope, and I hope I never have to do
it again,” Mike grumbled.
The voices faded into silence, with only
the thrumming of the engines to remind Benny Ray of where he was.
He waited several more minutes before again working the ropes binding
his wrists. He silently crowed in triumph ten minutes later. The
rope circling his right wrist slipped loose, but he wasn’t
prepared for what followed.
Several seats up Mike looked at his watch
mumbling a few choice words into the darkness of the planes interior.
Pulling a little black case from beneath his seat he flipped open
an outside pouch fishing inside he took a small white capsule from
the little pocket. Standing up he took silent steps toward the bed.
Breaking open the capsule he waved it beneath Benny Ray’s
The ammonia capsule jolted Benny Ray into
action. Taking in a deep whiff of the noxious fumes he jerked away
from Mike’s hand. His movements were instinctive as he kicked
out catching Mike in the stomach. A whoosh of air was released from
the hapless man’s chest as he fell to his knees. Bolting to
his feet Benny Ray heard Mike’s cry of pain as he slammed
his injured hand against the floor. In front of him the plane broke
into chaos as five men rushed toward him. Groaning he knew it was
hopeless, but wanted desperately to punish someone. Diving forward
he caught Carl in the stomach with his shoulder driving him and
the others backwards down the aisle. His momentum knocked three
of his captors off their feet. He heard the yelps of pain and grinned
in satisfaction. One man went down cracking his head on an armrest;
he went limp falling unconscious to the carpeted floor. A second
cry would later prove to be a broken wrist, crushed beneath five
Standing up straight proved to be impossible
for Benny Ray. The ropes binding his ankles were tied to his wrists
preventing him from gaining his balance. Behind him, Mike had taken
all the punishment he could stand and brought his uninjured fist
down on the back of Benny Ray’s skull. Benny Ray hissed in
pain and fell forward. It gave the others a chance to tackle him.
Mike ruthlessly grabbed Benny Ray around the neck and pressed the
syringe into his neck. With one last show of defiance, Benny Ray
punched out catching Mike in the groin. The empty syringe fell from
limp hands. Lying flat on his back, with five men piled on top of
him Benny Ray could only watch as the drug worked its insidious
magic through his body. It wasn’t long before the darkness
rose up to meet him.
The voices echoing through his skull brought
Benny Ray back to consciousness. His head throbbed painfully as
he came back to full awareness. His mouth was dry his tongue thick
and cottony as he tried to swallow. Stiff, sore muscles protested
even the slightest movement as he tested his limbs, only to find
his hands still bound. The dried cracked wounds at his wrists opened
and he winced with the pain. His previous efforts had rewarded him
with a loosened loop around his right wrist. A few more minutes
and his hands would be free. Ignoring the pain and the warmth of
his blood as it soaked the ropes he brought himself up short. Raised
voices in the room beside his intruded
Pressing his ear against the wall, the voices
were no longer muffled he could hear them clearly. He ground his
teeth in anger and frustration; listening intently he recognized
“I’m sorry Sir the communication
was garbled and cryptic. All they gave me was a name an address
and a word printed at the bottom of the page. All it said was dangerous.
My orders were to get him here any way I could, I did what I had
to! What else was I suppose to do?”
“Ask him,” the second voice yelled.
“You were suppose to ask him not kidnap him! Dangerous meant
I needed him for a dangerous mission. Hell Hargrove, what am I supposed
to do now? He’ll never agree to help us, not now, not like
this.” Angrily pacing the room the second man turned back
saying, “You have no clue how dangerous this man really is
Hargrove. My suggestion is you get back in there right now and release
him. Then get as far away from here as you can before he wakes up.”
“I’m not afraid Sir!”
“Well you should be you idiot, now
go before I kill you myself.”
Benny Ray had managed to slip his hand through
the loop around his right wrist. His next move was to untie the
ropes binding his ankles. His movements were sluggish his body lethargic
and slow to react all he really wanted to do was sleep. He heard
the words being shouted in the next room and his anger grew. Trembling
fingers worked the rope loose around his ankles and soon he was
Hearing the slam of a door he fell back to
the bed and closed his eyes pretending sleep. Lying still and silent
he waited. Gathering his strength he tuned his senses to the sounds
and movements around him. The wait was soon rewarded by the sound
of the opening door.
Heavy footsteps crossed to the bed as he
heard the man whisper. “I’m not afraid of you?”
Coiled muscles sprang to life, a rush of
adrenalin pumped through his body. In the blink of an eye Benny
Ray was on his feet, his left hand lashed out to catch the man around
the throat. His fingers dug deep into the soft tissue around Hargrove’s
windpipe, cutting off his air supply. At the same time Benny Ray’s
right hand reached beneath Hargrove’s coat, his thumb releasing
the leather strap that held the weapon in place. Pulling the weapon
from its resting place Benny Ray raised it high pressing it to his
captive’s temple. Fury drove him. The tightly coiled muscles
in his legs pumped relentlessly, pushing his captive backward. Driving
hard he forced the man across the room slamming him against the
wall. The sniper’s eyes glittered dangerously, his fingers
tightening around the man’s throat, his voice deep and angry
he whispered. “You should be afraid Mr. Hargrove, because
right now it would give me great pleasure to do you bodily harm.”
Hargrove’s air was cut off, his head
spun dizzily from the impact with the wall. But his hands remained
at his side glaring at the man in front of him. Trout had shown
him the sniper’s real file and he had gained a healthy respect
for the man. If he hoped to survive the encounter he couldn’t
show his opponent fear or remorse. He regretted the incident, but
under the same circumstances with the information he’d had,
he would do it again if he had to.
Opening the door Trout came to an abrupt
halt. Sighing deeply he waited wondering how this confrontation
would play itself out. He knew Riddle wasn’t a cold-blooded
killer, but he was unpredictable. Given the events of the last twenty-four
hours… and the drugs coursing through his system, Trout had
to wonder if the line would be crossed and Hargrove pay the ultimate
price for his actions. He had to do something, anything to stop
the sniper from destroying himself and Hargrove.
The tired face of the sniper had reflected
molten rage as he drove his captive across the room. His anger needed
release and Hargrove was to be the instrument. Trout could see the
sniper’s fingers tightening around the man’s throat.
His finger caressed the trigger of the 9mm.
Benny Ray gnashed his teeth a feral grin
slowly curling his lips upwards.
Trout’s voice cut through the thick
tension in the room. Clearing his voice to break the tension, he
whispered, “It wasn’t his fault Mr. Riddle, it was a
Seconds ticked by as the standoff continued.
With a harsh throaty growl, Benny Ray pushed Hargrove away, releasing
the death grip he had on the man’s throat. The 9mm moved a
fraction, just enough to let the man pass. “Get out,”
Benny Ray whispered harshly.
Hargrove coughed and gasped for air, rubbing
his throat he took a cautious step away from the sniper.
And for the first time Benny Ray saw regret,
and sorrow reflected in the man’s gray eyes. Wordlessly Jason
shook his head only seconds before he rushed from the room. But
Benny Ray wasn’t done yet. Spinning right he took the agents
place against the wall and raised the weapon to shoulder height,
Trout’s heart centered in its sight.
Furious words broke the utter stillness of
the room. “A slight misunderstanding Trout, I was kidnapped
damn you, an innocent woman terrorized. I should shoot you where
The adrenalin that had carried him across
the room was fading fast and Benny Ray sagged against the wall.
The 9mm in his hand wavered upward as he squeezed the trigger. Trout
flinched but held his ground as the bullet buried itself into the
wall a scant inch from his left ear.
“Why, Trout? Your men kidnapped and
drugged me, scared a woman half out of her mind in the process and
you call it a slight misunderstanding.”
“I’m truly sorry Benny Ray,”
Trout whispered his eyes mirroring the words. “The message
was garbled and Hargrove misinterpreted its meaning. It wasn’t
meant to happen this way.”
“That doesn’t answer the question
Trout. I’ll ask one you more time, and I’d better get
a straight answer, why?
But before Trout could answer a woman rushed
into the room coming to an abrupt halt beside him saying, “Xavier
someone said you needed me, and I heard a shot, what’s going
Leaning against the wall Benny Ray groaned
again as the familiar voice filled the room. Lowering the 9mm he
closed his eyes, letting the little scene play itself out.
Diana Amberleigh stood looking at the older
man as he nodded toward the figure across the room. Diana’s
eyes followed the gesture, hissing in anger as she saw the sagging
figure of the sniper against the far wall.
Looking from one man to the other Diana balled
her fist and swung hard saying, “What the hell have you done
now Xavier Trout?” Her fist impacted with the older man’s
shoulder sending him staggering several steps to the right. Without
waiting for a reply Diana hurried across the room. Her fingers sought
the pulse at Benny Ray’s neck, hissing as it pounded erratically
beneath her touch. She could feel his whole body trembling as her
eyes took in the rest of his appearance. A dark bruise marred his
left cheek; his face was pale but the rope dangling from bloody
wrists made her furious.
Benny Ray would have laughed if he hadn’t
been so tired.
“What happened Xavier?” Diana
ground out. Reaching down her hand trailed across the back of Benny
Ray’s hand. Gently she took the 9mm from numb fingers.
But Benny Ray was the one to answer, his
voice cracking with exhaustion he mumbled, “A slight misunderstanding!”
He opened his eyes trying to focus on the face in front of him.
“Diana, fancy meeting you here?” he whispered sarcastically.
Diana cocked her head to the side trying
to understand the sniper’s cryptic “slight misunderstanding”
comment. What she heard was the pain and sarcasm in his voice and
saw the glazed, cloudy look in his eyes as he shot an angry glance
at Trout saying, “I want answers Trout!”
Breaking in Diana grabbed the sniper around
the waist as he slipped farther down the wall. “But what ever
it is, can wait.” Her voice a harsh whisper she turned back
to Benny Ray, “For now I need to get you cleaned up, those
cuts taken care of and you into bed.”
Reluctant to let Trout off that easy the
sniper threw Diana an angry look.
“You can get your pound of flesh later.”
Standing beside him she tugged him forward off the wall.
Resigned to the inevitable he took a deep
breath. “Whew,” he whispers wrinkling up his nose, “I
need a shower.” Beside him Diana chuckled while Trout threw
the duo a wry look.
“Yes, you do,” she stated looking
up at him. Pulling his left arm around her shoulders Diana grabbed
a belt loop on the snipers pants taking most of his weight on her
sturdy frame. Struggling upright he managed a small smile. Together
they staggered toward a door to his right. Reaching out Diana grabbed
the handle. Twisting the knob she pushed the door open before stepping
inside. The bathroom was fairly large having only recently been
refurbished. Muted earth tones trimmed with gold made the room warm
and welcoming, though Benny Ray failed to see it.
Untangling himself from her arms Benny Ray
shook his head.
Shaking her head in disgust Diana declared,
“I’ll give you five minutes. After that, I’m coming
“Yes, mother,” he mumbled. Walking
on unsteady legs he moved slowly into the bathroom. Turning on the
water, Benny Ray’s trembling fingers managed somehow to undo
the buttons and zippers and shed his clothes.
The water was warm and soothing, managing
to wash away the grime and a little bit of his anger. The caked
dirt and dried blood on his wrists eventually washed away. Tugging
at the tight dangling rope he soon gave up and left it. He continued
to stare at it for a long moment before the fog clouding his mind
washed away the rest of his anger leaving only the hurt and exhaustion
behind. Standing beneath the warm water he stilled, listening to
the voices in the other room, but their words were muffled and unintelligible.
In the bedroom, Diana had turned back to
Trout folding her arms across her chest she waited.
She didn’t wait long, as Trout sheepishly
began his tale. “I sent a message yesterday to Hargrove asking
him to find and recruit Mr. Riddle.”
“How did he end up like this Xavier,
did something happen, were they attacked?”
Shaking his head Trout glanced away not wanting
to see the look of loathing in her eyes when he told her what had
been done to the sniper. Stuttering slightly, Trout continued, “The
message to Hargrove was garbled and in implementing it he misinterpreted
“Misinterpreted how?” Diana asked
Trout looked up them and heaved a sigh before
whispering; “Hargrove kidnapped and drugged him to get him
“I know I didn’t hear you right
Xavier,” Diana stood glaring at the older man her hands on
her hips waiting.
“Yes Diana, Hargrove kidnapped him.”
“And from the looks of him, Benny Ray
didn’t come easily.”
“That’s putting it mildly; he
put two men in the hospital and made a few dents in several others.”
“What did they use to keep him sedated,
Xavier. He’s fighting it but is still under the influence
if I’m not mistaken.”
Trout swallowed convulsively before saying,
“It’s something new the company cooked up, it’s
a cross between a sedative and a powerful nerve depressant, it slows
muscle reactions and electrical impulses. He’s had two doses,
enough to knock out an elephant from what I’ve been told”
“Crickets,” Diana swore softly.
“Even if he was willing to go in Xavier, he’s in no
shape to take on an operation like this. Hargrove took care of that.”
“I know Diana, but what can I do? With
him we had a good chance of pulling it off, without him the operation
has little chance of success. I have no one else capable of handling
“Find someone,” she growled hopelessly.
“What choice did you give him - none! Right now he’s
incapable of going anywhere. He can barely stand up. If you send
him on this mission Xavier you’ll be sending him to his death.
Murder, Xavier, can you live with that?” But she knew reason
and logic were hopeless.
“If I have to,” he murmured quietly.
“How much time do I have?” she
“Less than sixteen hours,” Trout
replied. “If at that time you say he’s not ready to
go, Diana, I’ll be the first to pull him.
Diana groaned her shoulders sagging and she
plopped down on the side of the bed. “Sixteen hours Xavier.
I’m a doctor not a miracle worker.”
She sat staring off into space before she
hissed and turned back to Trout, “What about Matt,”
Diana asked cautiously, “Have you told him what happened?”
Seeing the evasiveness written on his face, Diana’s eyes grew
round as she realized he hadn’t and was planning on asking
her to make the call.
“Oh no, Xavier Trout, this is one mess
you will have to clean up on your own. I don’t want to be
anywhere around when Matt gets a hold of you.
Just then the door to the bathroom opened
and Diana met Benny Ray as he stepped out a large chocolate brown
towel wrapped around his waist. A second dark purple bruise marked
his ribcage, where a stray boot had caught him during the struggle.
An angry flush rose to his cheeks as he glanced
at Trout. Seeing the look Diana spun to face Trout her fingers swiftly
signing for him to leave before the situation got out of control.
Trout nodded waiting only until her fingers quieted before leaving.
Closing the door he snapped orders to one
of the Marines standing outside the door before striding down the
hall back to his office. Coming to attention the Marine snapped
his heels together grinning as the older man walked away.
Helping the sniper across the room Diana
could feel the minute shivers coursing through him. Crossing to
the bed the towel slipped from his slim hips as he slid between
the clean soft sheets. He sighed deeply and closed his eyes as he
lay back against the pillows. He’d never admit it but he hurt.
He felt bruised and battered from head to toe and it hurt to even
breathe. Hargrove’s men had not been gentle.
Diana went quickly to work digging in her
bag for a pair of scissors. Gently cutting away the rope she peeled
it away from his wrist growling as the blood again began to seep
from the torn flesh.
Benny Ray’s eyes flickered open his
unfocused gaze lighting on Diana’s face. “Why Diana?”
Sighing, Diana didn’t stop cleaning
and bandaging his wrists, speaking softly she tried to explain.
“A little over twenty-four hours ago the Vice President and
his entourage met with several warlords here in Afghanistan. They
were trying to iron out some of their differences and restore peace
to the northern region. They were attacked. One of the Warlords
was badly wounded another killed. The Vice-President survived, but
has been taken hostage his security team was decimated. The kidnappers
are demanding that American soldiers pull out of Afghanistan in
the next forty-eight hours or he will be killed. The message the
President received was pretty graphic. The terrorists described
how they would kill him before sending the video to the press. They
didn’t just describe it Benny Ray - one of the Vice Presidents
Secret Service men was mutilated the whole thing graphically displayed
on that tape.
She paused watching his face and saw the
quick flash of anger at her description. “Trout and the military
commander in country have put together a rescue op. You were to
be their last line of defense.
“Defense against what?” he asked
“The desecration of a man,” she
whispered. Watching him she saw the knowledge of what he was being
asked to do dawn on him.
Quickly she continued, “As a precaution
before coming here the Vice President was implanted with a tracking
device. He activated it eighteen hours ago.”
“The President will not give in to
the terrorists’ demands Benny Ray, no matter whose life depends
on it. Unless a rescue mission is put in place and soon, the Vice
President will die in less than 48 hours. The kind of death no living
creature should have to suffer”
Swearing softly Benny Ray’s eyes told
her he was calculating the odds.
Sighing she mumbled, “I know your going
after him Benny Ray, that’s a given. But you have sixteen
hours to rest and let the drugs work through your system. Right
now you need food and to rehydrate your body. Do you understand
Chuckling at the fierce look on her face
he winced as the bruise on his ribs painfully reminded him of the
past 24 hours. “Yes Ma’am,” he answered quietly,
“I’m all yours for the next few hours.”
Diana snorted in disbelief. Either the drug was working overtime
or Benny Ray had been knocked in the head once too often. Or a thought
she really didn’t want to contemplate, the last possibility
- he knew his only chance of coming though this was working with
her and not against her, for him to willingly submit to medical
attention surprised her.
Grumbling as she worked she spoke more harshly
than she intended, “What I’d really like to do, is tie
your sorry ass up and ship you back to LA. Since that doesn’t
seem to be an option I guess I’d better do something constructive.”
He chuckled but didn’t say a word,
for the moment too exhausted to respond.