WARNING: This story contains some
very heavy emotional content. There isn't any particularly graphic
violence, but some people might find some scenes upsetting.
* * * *
Spoilers: "The Lord is My Shepherd"
Margo Vincent strolled through the
bright California sunshine, one
arm linked through her brother's. Errant breezes tossed the skirt
her ice blue summer dress and the tails of the ice-blue-and-black
patterned silk scarf at her throat. Her pale dress and bare arms
were in startling contrast to John's ebony cassock and people
curious glances at the stunning woman and the tall priest as
"Oh, Margie, I've missed you
so," John told her.
"I've missed you, too. I'm so
glad you could spend your vacation
with me. How long can you stay?"
"For an entire week
first vacation I've had since I assumed my
new post. Now how shall we spend it?"
"I wish you could stay longer,"
Margo sighed wistfully.
"You are being greedy, Little
Sister," John chided gently.
Margo wrapped her hands tighter around
her brother's arm and laid her
head against his shoulder. "I know
but we have so
much time to make
"We will, Margie, I promise
we will make up for all the lost
"I'm gonna hold you to that
They turned a corner onto a pleasant
street lined with small shops
and sidewalk cafes. Trees lined the sidewalk, alternating with
timbered flower boxes. A police officer in a warm-weather uniform
and white gloves directed traffic and a bespectacled schoolteacher
led a group of young children down the sidewalk, stopping now
then to point out the trees that shaded the sidewalk.
John smiled at the children's antics.
"Margo," he teased gently,
"What grade would you say those children are? Second perhaps?"
Margo batted him in the arm, blushing
as she remembered her 'fib'.
She sobered then, her green eyes growing wary behind the dark
of her sunglasses. "John, are you
are you all right
with what I do
for a living?"
John stopped and took both her hands
in his own. "Margo, we have
both seen terrible things. I have chosen my way to combat the
that men do, and you have chosen yours. I have no right to question
your choices, because I was not there to help you make them.
that you defend the helpless and champion justice, and I think
the world needs people like you and your friends who have the
to stand up and do what must be done. I might wish that it were
otherwise, but I have seen too many things to look at the world
through rose colored glasses." He drew her arm through his
started walking again.
"What about you?" Margo
asked curiously, "You never did tell me
exactly what made you decide to become a priest."
John's eyes grew troubled. "It
is a long story. I do not even know
where to begin."
Margo sensed that is was her turn
to reassure. "John, you're my
brother. I love you, and nothing you could tell me about your
will change that, OK?"
John opened his mouth as though to
answer her when the peace of the
morning was shattered by the whoop of a siren and shouts of alarm.
Two men wearing dark sky masks and carrying semi-automatic rifles
spilled out of a small bank across the street. One fired into
air for effect, while the other sprayed the windows of the bank,
sending glass shards flying all over the street. Pedestrians
screamed and ran for cover.
Instinctively, Margo dragged her
brother down behind the cover of a
parked car. She drew the gun that the guys had given her for
birthday out of her purse and dropped the bag on the pavement.
had a brief moment of wishing that they were there with her,
pushed it down firmly, becoming the seasoned operator once more.
John laid a hand on her arm as she
checked the clip. "Margo, what
are you doing?"
She kept her eyes on her weapon as
she answered in calm, measured
tones, "This is what I do, John
it's who I am. I can't
just stand by
and let innocent people be hurt. Stay here, all right?"
"John. Stay here. Don't make
me have to worry about you, too."
Something in her eyes stilled his
protests. He nodded slightly and
Margo edged around the back end of
the car, weapon at the ready. She
quickly scanned the scene, noting that the perps seemed to be
a getaway car, she figured. The schoolteacher
students huddled against a storefront, much too close to the
for Margo's taste. The traffic cop was also edging closer, trying
for a shot. She only hoped he'd called for backup.
A nondescript van sped around the
corner and the police officer
stepped out into the road, shouting for the driver to stop. The
vehicle continued to bear down in him. He hesitated to fire,
school children were between him and his target. One of the tangos
at the bank took the opportunity to shoot him. As he fell, the
officer got off a shot at the van. It was enough to spin the
out of control.
Swearing under her breath, Margo
edged over behind another car,
trying for a better angle.
Realizing that their transpo was
gone, the tangos moved out into the
street, aiming their weapons at the terrified driver of a dark
Margo leaned out around the parked
car she was using for cover.
Holding her breath, she sighted carefully and squeezed the trigger.
The apparent leader of the robbery fell. The others looked around
wildly, trying to pinpoint where the shot had come from. Margo
ducked back as bullets sprayed the space she'd just occupied.
smiled grimly; at least the tangos weren't threatening the driver
the car any more. Her relief was short-lived however, as a shout
from the street made her cautiously raise her head to see one
perps holding a struggling child in his arms. Damn, damn, damn.
Where was Benny Ray when she needed him?
"Margo!" John shouted,
his accent becoming thicker as his stress
"Stay down!" she hissed.
She leaned out for another shot, but the
tangos had figured her location.
John watched the scene unfold, horrified.
His vision seemed to slow
down, recording each detail with terrible, indelible clarity.
bullet caught Margo in the chest, throwing her up and back to
the street like a puppet whose strings had been cut. She seemed
fall in slow motion, her body hitting the pavement first, then
out flung arms. Her weapon fell close beside her, along with
sunglasses. The cracked lenses seemed to reflect his horror-stricken
face in each dark shard as his sister's pain-filled scream echoed
over and over in his ears. Bright red blood spread out over the
silk of her dress
more blood trickled from the corner of
A haze as red as Margo's blood seemed
to settle over his vision.
John crawled forward to his sister's side
there was so
soaking the front of her dress and pooling on the
her. With a wordless scream of anguish, John's hand closed over
Margo's gun. As his fingers closed around the metal, warm from
grasp, the red haze before his eyes thinned just enough
for him to
focus on her attacker. As if in a dream, he raised the weapon
sighted on the man who'd shot his sister. The man's mouth moved
though he were shouting something, but John heard nothing save
roaring of blood in his ears. He pulled the trigger again and
firing long after he'd emptied the clip.
He was still standing there, pulling
the trigger of the spent weapon
when additional police officers pulled up. They trained their
on him at first, unsure of exactly what was happening. Bystanders
hurried to explain, telling how the priest and the wounded young
woman had stopped the criminals. They approached hesitantly,
officer kneeling quickly to check on Margo and the other attempting
to speak to John.
"Sir? Sir, I need you to drop
the weapon. Sir?" Very cautiously,
the officer extended his hand.
Finally, John turned haunted eyes
on the man. Margo's handgun fell
* * * *
from nerveless fingers. "My God," he whispered brokenly,
THE SILVER STAR
HERMOSA BEACH, CALIFORNIA
The basement phone rang and Matt
snatched it up immediately.
"Shepherd," he answered crisply.
"Matt, it's Trout."
The older man's voice seemed heavy
with some emotion Matt couldn't
quite identify and all his instincts went on full alert. "What's
up?" he asked cautiously.
Nick and Benny Ray caught the change
in his tone and drifted over.
"I just got a call from a friend
over at State. Margo Vincent and
her brother have been involved in a shooting."
"What?! That can't be right...
they're both right here in town... they
just went out for a walk."
"It seems that during their
stroll, they got in the way of some armed
robbery suspects trying to make an escape. My friend at the State
Department got the call because the Monsignor's travel documents
issued by the Vatican."
"Was John hit?" Matt demanded.
"Margo?" Matt whispered.
"I'm afraid she was shot
chest wound... some sort of assault
rifle... the damn crooks are better armed then the cops,"
with bitter humor. "I arranged for her to be airlifted to
They've got the best people and equipment to deal with something
this," Trout assured him.
"How bad?" Matt asked.
Trout's heavy sigh carried clearly
through the phone line. "It's as
bad as it gets, Matt. I'm sorry. Look, I've got Deke standing
with a chopper to take you down there. If there's anything I
"I'll ask," Matt told him.
He slowly hung up the phone, wondering
how something like this could have happened so fast. It was only
couple of hours ago that Margo turned up to take her brother
walking tour of Hermosa Beach. She'd looked stunning, as usual,
there was a special warmth in her eyes and voice that only surfaced
when she was with her brother. It was as if spending time with
restored some lost part of her soul... a part that had withered
died from witnessing too much death and deception. Margo Vincent
always beautiful, but at moments like that...
"Boss?" Benny Ray asked
Matt looked up. From the expressions
on the other mens' faces, he
* * * *
gathered that it wasn't the first time the sniper had called
name. "There's been an... incident."
CORONADO NAVAL AIR STATION
There was a blessedly familiar face
waiting for them at the helipad.
"She's still in surgery," Rico yelled over the noise
of the rotors as
Matt jumped down from the bird.
"John?" Matt shouted back.
Rico waited through the momentary
cacophony that accompanied Deke's
taking the chopper back up before he answered. Matt's nerves
strung battle-tight and the wait seemed interminable.
"He's in some kind of shock.
The detective in charge of the case
flew down with them to get a statement, but the doctors want
him stabilized first."
"Ya can't really blame da guy,"
Nick observed philosophically, "I
mean, he's a priest... he ain't usta seein' people get shot."
"'Specially not his own sister,"
Benny Ray agreed.
"Actually, from what the witnesses
said, John killed the guy who shot
Margo," Rico explained.
A low whistle escaped Benny Ray's
lips. "I don't know the padre real
well, but I don't think he's gonna handle this too well."
"Can I talk to him?" Matt
"Sure... I think it might do
him good to hear a familiar voice," Rico
* * * *
They heard the shouting of angry
voices the minute they stepped off
"I don't give a damn who you
think you are in LA, Mister," a woman's
voice was saying, "but right now you are in my hospital.
you are about two seconds away from having your six thrown out
hospital. Do I make myself clear?"
Rico rolled his eyes heavenward.
"Emma," he muttered, adding
something in Spanish.
Under other circumstances, Matt would
have been amused, but there was
no room for laughter in his heart just now... no room for anything
other than his need to know that Margo was still alive.
The voices grew louder as they rounded
the corner, breaking off
abruptly as the woman spotted Rico. She had short red hair and
evidently, the temperament that went with it. "Rico, who
friends?" she asked curiously.
"Colonel Emma Patterson, this
is Matt Shepherd, Benny Ray Riddle and
Nick Delvecchio. They're friends of the family; the monsignor
staying with Matt."
The colonel shook hands with each
of them, her pleasant tones a far
cry from the heated discussion that had been going on scant moments
before. Her sharp eyes lighted on each face, reading their pain
guessing that the gunshot victim was much more then just a friend
co-worker to these men. "Your friend will be in surgery
for a while
longer, Mister Shepherd," she said sympathetically.
Matt nodded slightly. "Can I
see her brother?"
"I think it would be very helpful
for him to hear a familiar voice,"
the doctor replied, ignoring the look that the detective fired
direction. Smiling gently, she ushered Matt into a small examining
Matt was shocked at the other man's
appearance John seemed to have
aged years since he'd seen him that morning. His cassock was
wrinkled and stained with blood. A nurse was trying to clean
blood from his hands. John's face was pale, but what scared Matt
most was his eyes. Those eyes that had been sparkling with love
his little sister had darkened to pools of despair.
Deeply disturbed, Matt mustered a
smile and kept his voice carefully
neutral. "John? How are you?"
It seemed to take a long time for
John to acknowledge Matt's words
and turn to face him. "Matthew?" he whispered hoarsely.
The doctor nodded encouragement,
gesturing for Matt to keep talking.
"Yes, sir, it's Matt Shepherd.
How are you feeling?" he repeated.
"I... do not know," John
"Hey, that's all right,"
Matt said soothingly, "You've had a pretty
bad scare... it's natural to be a bit shaken up."
"Where is Margie?" John
Matt sat down and laid his hand on
the other man's arm. "John, Margo
was hurt... she's in surgery right now. Do you remember what
happened? Can you tell me?"
John just shook his head vaguely.
His eyes lost focus and he began
speaking softly in what Matt presumed was Romanian. Matt raised
eyes to the doctor, who shook her head.
"John, I'm going to go check
on Margo. You just take it easy, all
* * * *
"How is he, sir?" Benny
Ray asked when a very shaken Matt returned to
Matt looked inquiringly to Colonel
"As far as we can tell, he sustained
no physical injuries. As to his
mental state, well, it's a bit early to tell. I certainly understand
how an experience like this can be traumatic to a civilian,
especially a member of the clergy, but his reaction seems excessive
"Ma'am, I ain't tryin' to tell
you your business," Benny Ray began
deferentially, "but maybe a chaplain might make more headway
than a shrink. No offense," he added quickly.
"None taken," the colonel
replied. "In fact, that's an excellent
suggestion. So you gentlemen have no idea of what's behind all
Nick shook his head. "Not us.
Margo might, but..."
"Of course," Colonel Patterson
said kindly. "Why don't you make
* * * *
yourselves comfortable in the family room while I go check on
The family room was still and dark.
Silvered moonlight traced the
forms huddled in uneasy slumber on the couches and chairs. A
man stood sentry at the window, keeping watch over his companions.
He turned at the sound of Colonel Patterson's footsteps.
"Mister Riddle?" she asked
"We've moved Ms. Vincent to
her own room. I thought you might like
to look in on her for a moment."
"I'm much obliged, ma'am, but
shouldn't you be talkin' to her
"We finally got him to sleep...
I'd rather not wake him just yet.
She's unconscious and likely to remain that way for some time,
we're reasonably sure that patients in her condition can hear
someone speaks to them, so if you'd like to visit her, one at
for just a few moments, you may."
Matt had wakened when she first stepped
into the room and now he sat
"Go on, Boss," Benny Ray
Matt nodded his gratitude and followed
the doctor out.
"He never told her, did he?"
"Told who what?" Nick demanded
Benny Ray ignored the former DEA
man. "I don't think so... that's why
* * * *
this is eatin' him up so bad... he's afraid he'll lose her without
ever knowin' how he feels."
Matt's footsteps seemed inordinately
loud in the hushed atmosphere of
the hospital room. The stillness was a palpable thing, broken
by the muted beep and hum of the machinery that dwarfed Margo's
form. There was the gentle whoosh of the respirator that pumped
into her lungs, and the winking lights of the instruments that
monitored her heartbeat. Matt's strength failed him and he slumped
down into the hard plastic chair at her bedside.
She looked so small and fragile.
Her skin was pale almost to the
point of translucency and she was so still... Matt had to look
monitors to reassure himself that she really was still alive.
were IVs in her arms and monitors were attached to her finger
chest. Tubes in her mouth and nose aided the flow of life-giving
oxygen. Matt felt a sudden and overwhelming need to touch her,
he finally settled for gently stroking her arm, being careful
avoid touching any of the equipment.
"Oh, Margo... you can't even
take a walk without getting into trouble,
can you?" he teased feebly. Matt's voice cracked with the
unshed tears and the joke echoed hollowly in his own ears. "Damn,"
he swore softly. Clearing his throat, he tried again. "Your
say you're gonna be just fine, you know... so you better hurry
get outta here... there's sick people who need the room."
again, trying to get his emotions under control. "And there's
who need you. Your brother is going to need you very much to
him get through this, Margo. You have to come back to him..."
Matt leaned his forehead against
the bedrail as a single scalding
* * * *
tear escaped to slide down his cheek. "... you have to come
Matt started awake as he sensed movement
in the room. The spare
furnishings of the room were engoldened with sunlight. A young
looked up from checking the readings on the monitors and smiled
He eased himself straight in the
hard plastic chair, grimacing as his
spine protested the movement. "How is she?" he asked,
gravelly from sleep.
"The doctor will be in to check
her in a moment... he's better
qualified to answer your questions. Perhaps you'd care to freshen
up?" she suggested diffidently.
Matt reached down to trail his fingers
through Margo's hair. He was
startled when she seemed to turn towards that slight touch. At
same moment, several of the monitors changed cadence.
"Sir, I need you to step outside
now," the nurse said firmly as she
pushed him out the door.
"What's wrong?" Matt demanded.
"Sir, please," the nurse
repeated, beckoning for the doctor.
"What's goin' on, Major?"
Benny Ray wanted to know, laying a
supportive hand on his friend's shoulder.
Rico edged his way inside, his look
promising them answers.
"She'll be all right... she's
a strong lady," Deke rumbled in his deep
None of them were really sure afterwards
how long they waited for the
doctor to emerge from the room, but the smile on his face brought
a wave of relief that nearly drove Matt to his knees. "She's
the doctor told them kindly. "I'll allow you in, one at
a time, but
please remember that Ms. Vincent needs her rest."
"What was all dat beepin'?"
Nick asked curiously.
"When a person wakes up in a
strange place and finds themselves
hooked up to all sorts of tubes and so forth, it can be a bit
disorienting. The nurse is just removing some equipment and then
can go back in."
"Thank you, Doc," Matt
said warmly as he shook the man's hand.
"It was my pleasure." He
looked around at the group gathered in the
hallway. "I'd say that Ms. Vincent is a very lucky lady."
Rico appeared in the doorway a few
moments later. "You can come in
now," he said, holding the door for the nurse as she walked
Matt followed him back inside.
"She's strong enough to breathe
on her own now, but she shouldn't
talk and she definitely shouldn't move," Rico advised him
Grinning, he leaned down to speak to Margo. "Hey, beautiful,
got a visitor. Just remember what I told you...no waltzes just
Matt moved closer to the bed and
looked down at Margo. The medical
staff had cleared away some of the equipment and he could see
face clearly. She was still pale, but her eyes shone and Matt
sure that she recognized him. He leaned down to gently cup her
with his palm. "Hey," he said softly.
"You were here... last night,"
"Shh... you're not supposed
to talk. But yeah... I was here." He
paused, unsure what to say, or how to say it. Shying away from
enormity of his feelings yet again, he settled for a joke of
"No place else I'd rather be."
She smiled for him, then... just
a faint upturn of her lips, but it
was enough for Matt.
"You've got your own fan club
out in the hall there," he teased, the
humor in his voice genuine now that she was awake. "I'm
going to go
and tell your brother that you're awake. He's fine," Matt
quickly, reading the question in her eyes. It wasn't precisely
truth, but he didn't think she could handle the details just
"Now, who would you like me to send in next?" he asked
"Benny Ray? Or maybe Nick?"
Her mouth twitched slightly and Matt
thought she was trying to
laugh...or maybe wince.
"OK, Benny Ray it is."
The laughter drained out of his face and he
* * * *
just stared at her for a space of time that he could never later
recall. He had the strangest feeling of having stood at this
crossroad before... and somehow making the wrong decision. Giving
to the sudden rush of emotion, he bent and kissed her lips. "Thank
you... for coming back to me," he murmured against her mouth.
Cocooned in a drowsy haze of pain
and medication, Margo drifted in
and out of wakefulness. Faces moved in and out of her range of
vision and familiar voices murmured quiet words. Her mind couldn't
quite grasp what they said most of the time, but the sound was
comforting, as were the occasional gentle touches on her arm
It occurred to Margo that she must be hurt rather badly for the
to be so openly affectionate, especially...
"Matt?" she whispered.
"He's gone to fetch your brother,
Sweet Pea," Benny Ray explained
soothingly. His big hands squeezed her cold fingers gently and
realized that he must have been holding her hand for some time.
Major'll be back real soon."
Of course, that's what Matt had said...
just before he... had he really
* * * *
kissed her? Margo wasn't sure any more if it was real or if she'd
dreamed it. That kiss had felt so incredibly wonderful... very
different from the brotherly pecks on the cheek or forehead that
others had been so liberal with. Surely it must have been a dream...
Matt knocked before entering John's
room. He was somewhat relieved
to see the priest sitting at a table by the window. As he got
closer, he realized that John was staring out the window and
picking listlessly at his breakfast. His mood dimmed.
"Sir?" There was no answer.
"How are you doing this morning, sir?"
Matt asked with forced cheerfulness. He reached out and touched
other man's arm lightly.
As if in slow motion, John turned
to face him.
Matt took that as a positive sign
and continued speaking. "Margo's
awake. It's going to take some time, but the doctors think she'll
make a full recovery."
"Margo... is... all right?"
"She will be. She'd really like
to see you," Matt added hopefully.
"No!" John cried vehemently.
His arm swept out and dashed the items
on the table to the floor.
Matt was shocked by the other man's
reaction. "John," he began
calmly, "this is your little sister we're talking about.
hurting, and she really wants to see you."
John buried his face in his hands.
After a few moments, Matt saw his
shoulders shaking with sobs. He kept saying something, over and
over, and it took Matt a moment to figure out what it was.
"... don't understand... cannot
face her... I cannot... I am so
Matt drew in a deep breath and spoke
as gently as possible. "John,
Margo loves you. There is nothing you could ever do that would
"You do not understand... I
cannot face my little sister... with blood
on my hands."
"John, look at me. I know what
happened... I read the police report."
"Then you know... that I killed
a man," John intoned in a voice that
* * * *
echoed of despair.
Margo's head turned restlessly on
her pillows. She couldn't find her
brother... she'd been searching for so long and she had to find
"Whoa there, darlin,'"
Benny Ray crooned, pressing her back against
the bed. "Calm down now... what's wrong? Pain?"
"Where is my brother?"
Margo gasped tearfully, the terror of a dark
dream still evident in her eyes.
Benny Ray softly stroked her hair
back from her face. "You rest
easy, darlin.' The Major went to fetch your brother an' I'm sure
they'll be here real soon."
Margo's green eyes were clouded with
pain and fear and the sniper
found himself answering their plea without a second thought.
"I'll go find 'em for you, all
right?" She nodded slightly and he
leaned down to kiss her forehead. He turned at the door and smiled
back at her. "Delvecchio! Front an' center!"
"Whassamatta?" the New
Yorker slurred, starting up from a brief nap.
"I need you to come on in here
and hold hands with this pretty lady
* * * *
for a while so's I can find out what's keepin' her brother an'
Major." He looked back at Margo once more and winked. "I'll
right back... I promise."
Benny Ray tapped once on the door
before pulling it open and
Matt's head whipped around instantly.
"She's fine sir, but I think
she's a bit fuzzy from all the meds
they're pumping into her. She wants to see her brother real bad
I think she'll rest alot easier once she sees for herself that
Matt turned back to the tormented
priest. "John, it's not good for
Margo to be upset just now. Let's go and see her. She needs to
that you're all right."
"Nothing is all right... nothing
will ever be all right again," John
"John," Matt tried again,
"in our line of work... all of us... even
Margo, have found it necessary to kill sometimes. It isn't easy,
God knows, it isn't pretty, but sometimes it has to be done.
help you work through this. I understand. Margo will underst-"
"You understand nothing! Nothing!"
The hours of fatigue and worry caught
up to Benny Ray in a sudden
rush and he did something that his God-fearing parents would
tanned his hide for. "Now you look here. The only thing
understand right now is that someone I care for very much is
The thing that will stop her hurting is for you to get up outta
chair and stop feeling sorry for yerself and talk to her. You
gonna go down that hall and talk to your sister if I have to
there myself, ya hear?"
The silence that reigned was so complete
that Benny Ray swore later
that he could hear the beating of his own heart.
Ultimately, it was the monsignor's
voice that broke the stillness.
"Perhaps you are right, Mister Riddle," he said slowly.
Matt slowly expelled the breath he'd
been holding and made a mental
note to discuss tactics with his second. "Why don't you
Margo we're on our way?" he suggested in a carefully neutral
"Will do, sir."
* * * *
Rico opened the door to Margo's room
with a flourish and Matt pushed
John's wheelchair inside.
"Look who I found wandering
around this place!" Matt said jovially as
he pushed the chair up to her bedside.
"Now will you behave yourself?"
Rico asked, squeezing her arm
Margo's eyes widened slightly as
she registered that her brother was
sitting in a wheelchair and wearing a hospital issue bathrobe.
John saw the accusation coalescing
in the look she aimed at Matt and
hastened to intervene. "I am not hurt, Margie. I was very...
upset... by what happened, and the doctors thought it best that
I stay the night in the hospital. I am fine, Little Sister. Truly."
Even through the pain that clouded
her mind, Margo sensed that
something wasn't quite right, but she felt too drained to try
ferret it out just then. A ghost of a smile flitted briefly across
her features and her fingers stirred feebly toward her brother.
Interpreting her gesture correctly,
John wrapped his hands around
hers, just as he had when she was a tiny child, afraid of the
Content now, Margo's eyes drifted
closed and she slipped back to
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