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Author: Rae Evans. Inspired by TA and with the best ever encouragement from Dee, Kat,Tink, Kiwi, Rattler and the Wolfman.
Rating: Rated R - Violence and rape are featured in this fic.
Summary: Benny Ray is dead and buried, but some one thinks he is alive. This is the first story in a trilogy.
Disclaimer: The SOF team and associated characters are not mine, they belong to Rysher. The others are mine. No profit is made by my use of the Rysher characters, so please don't sue.

Chapter 1

Alpha Towers, Birmingham.

Office of Elizabeth Pitt, Chief Investigations Officer, Crown Insurance.

Elizabeth Pitt stood in front of her 9th story window and surveyed the view before her. The city skyline was at its most impressive at this time of night; the sun was starting to set and rose tinted rays reflected off the glass buildings. As the door to her office opened she turned and saw the Vice President Claims framed in her doorway. She sighed,

" What can I do for you Bob?" she asked, already knowing the answer. She had reported to him on the file that sat on her otherwise empty desk. It was a strange case which she considered needed further investigation. Her request for permission to undertake those inquiries, she had known would provoke this visit. The insured had apparently died four weeks ago in very unusual circumstances; his body had been found in a burnt-out car in the desert just inside the American border. The only possible identification of the body had come from four individuals who had allegedly seen him die and from a ring that he always wore. Elizabeth was unsure why this particular case intrigued her so much and, she had to be honest, worried her.

" Lizzie, is this really necessary?" Bob Thomson asked, waving her internal memo.

He slumped into the chair on the opposite side of her desk. At 6 ft and large with it, whenever Bob sat down chairs creaked or made some noise of complaint.

" Tell me why Elizabeth? Explain it to me," he sighed. She knew his long suffering tone all too well and had been on the receiving end of it on too many occasions. She remained standing hoping that this might give her a psychological advantage. This was going to be a difficult one to get past him. She had been over the arguments herself and knew how flimsy they were. She started her well rehearsed argument.

" A little over four weeks ago the body of a man was found in the remains of a burning car. The body was so badly burnt that normal identification was not possible. The local police accepted the statements of four of the deceased's friends who had seen him by the car minutes before the explosion. The body had a ring on it which the deceased was supposed to have habitually worn."

Bob interrupted," Were the friends reliable?"

" American citizens, two ex military, one ex DEA and one, a woman, apparently ex CIA." She answered.

" An interesting group," Bob said raising his eyebrows.

" That was the first thing that made me sit up, as well as the ferocity of the fire. The body was burnt beyond all recognition. No finger prints, no distinguishing features. It takes an awful lot of heat to do that and you don't get that level of combustion with a normal car fire, as you well know." She continued. Bob nodded. He had started his career with Crown Insurance over 20 years ago as a Mail boy. He had quickly moved into the Claims Investigations department and just two years ago had left the office that Lizzie now occupied to become Vice President Claims. He would retire in 10 years and spend his time playing golf in Marbella. Lizzie had gotten his job. She had started with a law degree, intending to become a criminal lawyer. She had left her legal training after just 12 months, disillusioned with what she found and had joined the police force. Going straight to Bramshill she had fast tracked to Detective Inspector in six years and then been headhunted by the Company. He had wanted to groom someone to takeover, mold them in his own image. Looking at Lizzie he couldn't envisage an image so unlike his own. She was 5 ft 4 inches, compact, although she described herself as fat, with long light-brown hair. Her glasses gave her a studious look and she took life very seriously, but he had seen her on team building days charging around shooting everyone in sight during the paint balling. Someone had said she had done a stint in the Territorial Army. She hadn't seemed too serious then, her laughter had rung around all day and her smile had lit up her face.

" Go on," he said, knowing what was coming. Lizzie was very thorough.

"There was no dental identification, no blood work, no DNA and...." she struggled for words, " What the hell were five people like that doing in the desert on the American/ Mexican border?"

" What was the deceased's background?" Bob asked." Again ex military, but chucked out for gross insubordination. He punched out an officer. That was two years ago. Since then, I've hit a brick wall. Very few records. Lots of Hush Hush. I'm still working on it," Lizzie paused. Before she could continue Bob asked another question.

" And the claimant?"

" Ex-wife. This is one of the American subsidiary Policies. They passed it on to us because of the amalgamation. " Lizzie sat down and opened the file on her desk. "Three children all of school age." She went silent and Bob said nothing for a while just looking at her. Eventually he spoke,

" What do you want to do Lizzie?" She took a deep breath and dived in,

" Exhumation, post mortem and general inquiries, including the widow and the four witnesses. Bob raised both eyebrows,

" Lizzie, you love stirring up trouble. " He looked hard at her and nodded. She released a breath she didn't know she was holding. " Don't be surprised Lizzie, I have followed enough hunches in my time you know. Just keep me fully informed at all times." He got up and went to the door. Opening it he stopped in the doorway and turned back to her,

" Be careful Lizzie, please, " he said with feeling. " I will, Bob, promise." She replied, little knowing what the future held.

Chapter 2

The Silver Star Hotel, Hermosa Beach, California.

The team had last been together at the funeral. There had been an understandable reluctance to come together since, the absence of Benny Ray like an open wound. Matt had called them all. Deke was not around and a call to Trout had revealed he was in Europe somewhere, doing something. CJ and Chance were still at the hotel. They had arrived from Hawaii two days before the funeral and had stayed on reluctant to return until the healing had at least started. Time didn't seem to be doing any healing. Matt, CJ and Chance sat in the basement. Margo arrived next, sat beside Matt and muttered a quiet hello to the others. No one said anything as they waited for Nick. Even his entry down the stairs was subdued. He had not been his normal self since the job went sour. He blamed himself for Benny Ray's capture and the subsequent death. He had been inconsolable at the funeral.

" Hey, guys, what's this all about?" he said, his New York accent thick. Matt took a deep breath, " I've had two phone calls. Yesterday Mary Ellen rang. Margo shook her head, she had never understood why that woman had given up on Benny Ray. It had torn him up inside after she had moved away from California, after Billy's kidnapping, refusing to allow Benny Ray any contact with the children. Margo wondered what she wanted now. They had all seen her at the funeral and it had been heartbreaking to see the kids so upset but there was no reason Margo could think of for her to be in touch now.

" She is having trouble with the insurance company. They are refusing to pay out on Benny Ray's policy." Matt continued. " I'm surprised they gave him one at all given the work we do... did." CJ muttered. "Apparently it was taken out when she and Benny Ray were first married but the Company who issued the policy were recently bought out by a British Company and they want to carry out further investigations." Matt stated." Which Company?" CJ asked." Crown Insurance." Matt replied. CJ thought," They have a good reputation, unlike some." He said.

Matt continued, " Well, Mary Ellen has met with the insurance investigator and they want to exhume the body and carry out a post mortem." He knew what the reaction off his team would be. It was his reaction yesterday when Mary Ellen had told him. The angry comments mirrored his own. He put his hands up to quiet the team, "I know, I know. But they have told Mary Ellen that there will be no payout until their examinations are complete."

"Bastards!" CJ spat out. " So why is she coming here?" Margo asked ever the practical one. "She's not coming alone." Matt sighed, knowing that his next comment would go down just as badly. " The Chief Investigations officer is bringing her. She wants to speak to me, Margo and Nick. She has already spoken to Deke in France."

" So some bloody pen pusher is coming here to interrogate you lot about Benny Ray's death. They're all ghouls." CJ protested. Nick looked at his feet, " Do we have to talk to her?" he asked." Fraid so Nick, if we want to get Mary Ellen her money." Matt said gently. Nick got up and walked away, " I don't know if I can do this," he said more to himself than the others. No one said anything until Margo cleared her throat and asked Matt," You said you had two phone calls. Who was the other one from? "

"One Elizabeth Pitt, Chief Investigations Officer of Crown Insurance. She felt it would be more efficient if she saw us altogether."

Chance jumped up kicking the table," This stinks!" he exclaimed. Nobody disagreed with him." They will be here soon," said Matt," we should take this into my office."

Chance took the steps out of the basement two at a time as if trying to get rid of his frustrations by running away from them. The others slowly climbed the steps, Nick at the rear. They waited in the office for nearly 30 minutes hardly talking to each other; Chance and CJ exchanged a few muttered comments and Nick looked at his feet constantly.

There was a quiet tap at the door and at Matt's response of come in, the door opened to reveal Mary Ellen Riddle. She stepped into the room and said hello. Behind her was another woman. Every member of the team bristled as she strode into the room and walked straight up to Matt's desk." Major Matthew Shepherd, I presume," were her opening words," I'm Elizabeth Pitt, Crown Life." She held out her hand confidently and shook Matt's hand firmly. She turned her back on Matt and looked at the others. Approaching Chance and CJ she once again held out her hand," Mr. Walker, Mr. Yates." She shook their hands. Turning she softened her voice as she offered to shake hands with Margo. Nick looked up as she took a step towards him." Mr. Delvecchio, pleased to meet you." She held up her hand but he did not take it, giving her a short wave and a passing " whatever". His response seemed to disconcert her and she turned again to face Matt. The others were all sitting now and she thought to herself that standing did not necessarily give you a psychological advantage, sometimes sitting did that. She faced a formidable group of people and she could almost feel the animosity. Matt gestured for her to take a seat, which she did gratefully. She decided attack would be the best way forward.

" I appreciate your agreeing to meet me and I'm sure you're all wondering why I have asked you to come together like this." CJ spotted the London accent behind the educated overtones." I do not believe Mr. Riddle is dead." The collective gasp was deafening and they all tried to talk at once. She could pick out Matt's " What the hell are you talking about?" but the rest of the comments were garbled. The ex widow sniffled into her handkerchief as Elizabeth looked round. She had not formed a good impression of Mary Ellen during their interview and had already labeled the woman a money grabber, but to give her credit she had agreed to both the exhumation and post-mortem with out too much complaint. She had been more reluctant when Elizabeth asked if she could have blood samples from the children for DNA comparison, but had relented eventually. The kids she had liked, especially the older boy Billy, he had real spunk refusing to show his distress at his father's death, obviously being the big man for his mum.

Matt asked all the important questions,"What makes you think that Ms Pitt?" emphasizing the Ms." It's Miss," Elizabeth smiled " and I'd prefer it if you called me Lizzie." Matt stared stonily at her, " You haven't answered my question Miss Pitt!" he retorted. Well that puts me in my place thought Lizzie. She smiled sweetly, " If you don't mind I would like you to explain to me the events leading up to Mr. Riddle's apparent demise."

" We do mind," said Nick hotly, " What makes you think you can come here and question us?" he demanded. Lizzie could tell there was something really troubling this little man." Mr. Delvecchio, I have read all your statements and frankly I'm staggered that the police accepted your story, and frankly given your individual backgrounds I'm surprised that you expected those stories to be believed." As Lizzie looked around there were two faces that looked a little awkward, the little man was still looking at his feet. I have struck a chord thought Lizzie and she pushed on." Ladies and gentlemen, I intend to prove that the body that you buried is not that of Benny Ray Riddle, with or without your help."

Mary Ellen looked up, " Is this true Matt?" there were tears in her eyes.

" No Mary Ellen it is not," he replied fervently.

He believes it thought Lizzie, so why won't you tell me the truth, I could sign off on the death and she could have her money. Matt looked at her with hard eyes. "Benny Ray is dead Miss Pitt and that is an end to the matter." Lizzie stood up, "Very well Mr. Shepherd," she said angrily, " if that is your attitude, then I will leave, but believe me I will find out the truth, whether you like it or not." Turning she stormed out of the office slamming the door. Matt looked at the others." Damn " was all he said.

Later after Matt had walked Mary Ellen to her car the five of them sat once again in the basement. No one spoke and three of them thought back to the visit of Xavier Trout, which started off a chain of events, which led to Benny Ray's death. The other two looked at each other and nodded. CJ had volunteered to be spokesman. "Matt tell us what really happened." Matt looked up." We deserve it", continued CJ," he was our friend too."

Chapter 3

Silver Star Hotel, Hermosa Beach, California five weeks earlier.

Trout pulled up in his normal chauffeur-driven car. Benny Ray was cleaning the Big Dog. He kept his head down but Trout stopped on the other side of the bike and watched as he worked." I need to speak to you and the rest of the team, Mr. Riddle." Benny Ray stood up," Roger that, sir." The two men walked into the hotel and down to the basement. Trout nodded," Matt, Margo, Nick, where is Deke? He said he would be here."

" And here I am." said a voice from the armaments cupboard." "Good," said Trout. He stood in front of them. Benny Ray cleaned his hands on a rag as Deke settled next to Margo on the couch.

" Three months ago reports started coming through from the Mexican government that a new pipeline had opened up." " Drugs or guns?"` Nick interjected." People," Trout replied, " word had it that the Border Patrol had struck a deal with one of the local chiefs and were letting the illegals through for the normal exorbitant fee. Unfortunately most of the illegals were ending up dead on the US side of the border. Even more disturbing was the statement from one man who survived the executions, that the women and children were separated off beforehand." " White slavers?" Nick asked. Trout nodded." We put a man in undercover. You knew him Nick, Jack Slater." " Knew?" Nick queried." Yes, he ended up dead with a group of 20 other men. The bodies were found 24 hours ago. The government takes a dim view of DEA agents being murdered."

" Jack was a good man, the best undercover man I ever worked with." Nick explained. Trout continued, " We don't think his cover was blown, he didn't appear to have been treated differently from any of the others. We have no independent reports on what is happening to the women and children." " Independent?" Matt questioned." Lots of rumors but nothing solid. We want it stopped and we want the people who murdered Jack Slater. DEA has asked for our help given that there are cross-border implications and that the evidence points to the involvement of the Border Patrol. Matt I was wondering whether you could pull Rico in on this one?" Matt nodded. Trout handed Margo a CD Rom." What information we have is on this. Nick you might want to get in touch with a few old friends."

"Can do ," Nick replied," and a few old enemies."
" Matt, keep me informed of your plans, I have a feeling this could get dirty." Trout stated as Matt walked with him back to the car.

Back in the basement Margo was feeding the CD into the computer. She and Nick had their heads together round the screen. Deke and Benny Ray stood at the high table where they normally cleaned their weapons. At the moment the table was empty. "I have a few contacts down that way I think I will check out." said Deke. Benny Ray turned to him," Is there anywhere you don't have contacts?" he asked smiling. Deke thought, turned to Benny Ray as he took out his mobile phone and said simply" No". Matt walked back down the stairs and came up to Benny Ray," Rico is on his way over."
" Be good to see him again. Been a while. " nodded Benny Ray.

Margo's voice summoned them to the computer." OK group we've got something." As they went through the information Trout had left them a plan was formulated. Nick had disappeared to Matt's office to make some phone calls. It was decided Rico would go in from the Mexican side of the border with Margo as his wife. They would go in as aliens trying to get across the border. Margo assured them her Spanish was good enough. Nick would work the DEA angle and see what he could come up with as to who was selling out the Border Patrol. Deke and Matt would stay as close as possible to Rico and Margo. Given what had happened to the DEA man they didn't want to leave them isolated for any amount of time at all. Benny Ray had objected to trying to infiltrate the Border Patrol. At his protestations Matt had reminded him of the success he had made of going undercover with the White Way Group. Benny Ray had raised an eyebrow at that and in turn reminded Matt of how long it had taken him to recover from his injuries. Agreeing Matt suggested that perhaps a surveillance role might be just as effective.

Later after both Nick and Deke had reported back and the additional information assimilated into their plans and the plans adjusted accordingly, the group sat round. Bags were packed, travel plans were made and they were just waiting for Rico to turn up. Benny Ray twirled his bullet round his finger and Nick was telling Margo about his date last night. Deke and Matt were listening. As Nick came to the end of his story laughter rang around the room." You know amigo, that is a story CJ would be proud to tell." Benny Ray pointed out. Nick protested, "It's true honest, it's all true." They laughed again. Rico walked into the basement to hear their laughter." What's the joke?" he asked." Nick" Deke laughed.

Matt explained the plans whilst they drove to LAX. In the S U V, Rico turned to Margo and smiled "A dream come true, Senorita." " De Nada." Margo smiled and bobbed her head.

The flight Trout had arranged was waiting and with no customs to pass through they were soon on the plane and airborne. The flight passed uneventfully. They landed at a small and isolated airfield about 20 miles from a small town called Torreblanca, a one-horse town way off the tourist map. Somehow Deke had organized two jeeps. Benny Ray was to drop-off Rico and Margo just outside Torreblanca and then drive back to where the best Intel said that the border crossings took place. He was to settle himself in and wait, reporting to Matt on any comings and goings of the Border Patrol. Deke, Matt and Nick took off for a rendezvous with an old DEA friend of Nick's and were then to take up station outside Torreblanca so they could keep an eye on Rico and Margo.

Chapter 4

Cantina Rosa, 5 miles south of Torreblanca.

Nick's contact was waiting for them at the Cantina. In fact he ran the Cantina and a more run-down and dilapidated place you probably would not find. It couldn't make any money, Matt mused, there were no potential customers within five miles. Deke had to stoop to get in. Matt was wrong, inside half a dozen men sat around quietly drinking local beer. Nick's contact was behind the bar. He fitted in perfectly; unshaven, dirty, unkempt and his hair in need of a cut." Senors, what do you want to drink?" he asked in broken English." Three beers", Deke indicated. The three men settled onto stools by the bar. The beers arrived and Matt was surprised to find it was almost as good as the beer he sold at the Silver Star, clean and cold. No wonder this place had customers, there couldn't be many places that sold beer as good as this around here. The barman held out his hand, " Nick," he said. Nick shook his hand and introduced Matt and Deke. The barman's English was suddenly perfect. As Matt looked over his shoulder at the others in the bar, the barman answered his unasked question,

" Don't worry the guys are deaf dumb and blind when I want them to be. It's surprising what free beer can buy." Matt took a large swallow and nodded.

" What can I do for you Nick?"

" It's about Jack Slater." Nick replied. The barman scowled." I've been all over that one and have drawn a blank except for one thing. Word has it that it's Chavez." Now it was Nick's turn to scowl. Nick turned to the others and explained, " Chavez is a first-class bastard. He came to the attention of DEA about five years ago smuggling any drug you wanted in any quantity direct to Miami. Word had it he had a connection with a major Colombian cartel but nobody could prove anything. A lot of people were pissed off by what they saw as an upstart. Anyone who tried to move against him ended up dead and nastily dead. One guy was castrated and then staked out in the desert to die, after he tried to make a play for Chavez's lady. They say he took a long time to die." Matt swallowed hard, the distaste obvious on his face. "Eventually," Nick continued," He was left to his own devices and finding drugs a little on the boring side decided to branch out into gun-running. The story took a similar turn there and now it seems he has moved into white slavery and illegal immigration. So what can you tell us about him?" Nick asked the barman who had still not been introduced.

" Well," he said, " most of this is uncorroborated but my source is normally reliable. I believe that Chavez is holed up at the Villa Castillo just outside Torreblanca. He never stays in any one place for any length of time and this is one of several homes he has in this area. His wife is about to give birth and he has stayed put for the last month. She has had a bad pregnancy and he is very attentive, as Nick has told you. He never leaves her side and all the day to day business is done by his lieutenant, Domingo Martin. Domingo has a Mexican mother and an American father. He is the connection to the Border Patrol, he used to be part of the Patrol. Left after he beat an illegal half to death."

"Nice guy." muttered Nick. The barman looked at him, "Life here is brutal, cheap and normally short Nick. Only the cleverest or the most ruthless survive as anything other than a peasant or a grunt."

" What are you?" asked Matt. The barman smiled, " Something quite unusual, Mr. Shepherd. Neither and both." Matt knew he would get no better answer no matter how hard he tried.

The barman had a little more information, which he imparted. With profuse thanks the three men left and stepped out into the sunshine. All three put their sunglasses on. " This Martin guy, he came up in my inquiries." said Deke. A sociopath who enjoys hurting people but not too bright. I hope Chavez keeps him on a short leash." With agreement all round the three men headed back to the spot which they had picked out to watch Rico and Margo.

Chapter 5

Somewhere in the desert, American/ Mexican border.

Benny Ray was hot, damn hot. He had found what shelter he could but the temperature had to be 140 degrees. He had been in place for only a few hours but was already dirty, thirsty and uncomfortable. Sand got in all the little nooks and crannies no matter how careful you were. His high-powered binoculars ranged across the desert. A Harris hawk flew overhead checking he wasn't a potential meal. For a while Benny Ray watched the bird ride the thermals, the freedom and grace were awe inspiring. The hawk cried out plaintively and Benny Ray heard another sound, an engine. Locating the source of the noise was easy there was little to see out here but scrub and cacti, jackrabbits and snakes. It was the Border Patrol. Their Humvee lumbered over the hummocks making relatively slow progress. Benny Ray watched it cross in front of him and disappear to the south. A normal Patrol, or so it seemed. An entry was made in a small notebook lying on the ground. The hawk cried again and Benny Ray felt a cold shiver down his spine despite the heat.

Chapter 6


Rico and Margo walked into the center of town from the direction of the highway. According to their calculations they had given themselves enough time to walk from the road to town on the assumption that they had gotten off the last bus. Of course they hadn't but they looked the part. They had talked about how to play things on the walk but knew that there were too many unknowns to fix all the details.

Torreblanca was dry and dusty and could hardly be called a town. The welcome sign had long since fallen to the ground and was now unreadable due to weather and neglect. There was only one road through the center of town, which was more a ramshackle collection of buildings in various states of disrepair. The best kept structure was a motel which was odd considering that Torreblanca rarely got any visitors. It was called the Old Fountain Motel and right in front stood the old fountain. No water sprang from the top that was broken anyway and no one could remember if it ever had. Rico and Margo sat by the fountain and waited. It wouldn't be long before someone would start talking to them.

After half-an-hour a young man in his early twenties approached from the West. An arrogant swagger marked him as someone low in the pecking order as far as the team was concerned. He demanded to know who they were and what they wanted in Torreblanca. Rico went into the agreed spiel. He was Rico Vasquez and Margo was his wife, Victoria. They were looking for work. The swaggerer told them there was no work in Torreblanca and it would be better for them if they left. Rico, with a little more desperation in his voice explained that they were hard honest workers and would do any sort of work anywhere. The opening came when the swaggerer suggested they find work in the North. Letting Rico carry on the conversation, Margo kept a close eye on their surroundings. She spotted one man with a rifle lurking across the other side of the street about 40 yards away. He was doing a bad job of being inconspicuous. She couldn't spot any others but made sure she was thorough. If there were others they were a great deal more sophisticated than these two, which wasn't difficult. The conversation between Rico and the swaggerer, who had now introduced himself as Juan, was nearing an end. Juan, if that was his name, would have to report to someone else higher up the chain of command and eventually their presence would trigger the response they wanted.

After buying a little food and water and moving into the shade offered by the building next to the motel, Rico and Margo settled down again. A couple of hours later Rico heard Matt over the tiny earpiece he was using. One of the buttons of his shirt was a transmitter, whilst Margo's was in her rosary beads. When she had complained that every time she wanted to say anything to the watching team it would mean she would have to look like she was praying, Matt had commented it would be good for her soul. She had scowled at him. It had not changed the position of the transmitter.

Rico reported the first contact and Matt relayed what Nick's contact had come up with. Everyone settled to wait. As dusk grew and no further contact was made Rico and Margo went in search of somewhere to stay for the night. There were rooms to let at the nearest Cantina. Matt turned to Nick and asked him to go out to Benny Ray with fresh supplies. Keeping enough water to stave off dehydration for the sniper meant keeping him supplied regularly for as long as the surveillance was needed. Nick quickly agreed feeling the need to stretch his legs. The little man had enough trouble keeping still normally but this enforced waiting was getting on everyone else's nerves. Matt wondered how his partner had survived surveillance work with Nick when he was DEA. Deke had already threatened to strangle him unless he stopped regaling them with stories of his love life. They both looked at each other and sighed when Nick left. Suddenly Deke laughed,

" I wouldn't want to be Benny Ray when Nick gets there." Matt chuckled,

" I think Benny Ray can handle himself."

The border between Mexico and America ran just north of a large gully which eventually flattened out into a gentle slope. Some locals said it was an old riverbed but the chance of any river having flowed along it during the lifetime of any local was remote. Nick knew where Benny Ray had left his Jeep and found the spot easily. Carrying the supplies Benny Ray needed, he had a three-mile hike in front of him, but the thought of stretching his legs in the warm scented air of the desert overcame any complaints he might have had about the length of the walk. For about a mile and a half. After that Nick grumbled every step of the way. By the time he got to Benny Ray, Nick was in a foul mood. Benny Ray's greeting did not help.

" You make enough noise to wake the dead. I've heard you coming for the last 15 minutes."

" I have just marched through the desert to get here you ingrate," Nick retorted," couldn't you park any closer?" Benny Ray was openly sarcastic," The Valet parking was sloppy, next time I'll tell him not to bury it too deep. Did you bring my supplies?"

" Yeah." Nick dropped the backpack on the ground. He also dropped to the ground, opened the backpack and helped himself to the water." Gee, thanks Nick." Benny Ray had little time for Delvecchio's complaints, after all he had been the one stuck out here in the sun and heat all day. After he finished drinking, Nick sat and looked at Benny Ray," Nice place you have here." he smirked. Benny Ray didn't even bother to answer him, but as he drank from the fresh supply of water Nick gave him the information the DEA man had given them.

" Well, so far, they've done two sweeps, all standard stuff nothing unusual or suspicious but we need to be patient on this one. You get the best milk from a lazy cow." said Benny Ray inscrutably. Nick looked at him as though he had just sprouted two horns and a tail. Standing up Nick pointed a finger at Benny Ray and spluttered,

" You're crazy you know that, you've been in the sun too long." As Nick strode away he could hear Benny Ray chuckling.

Chapter 7

Torreblanca, day two.

Rico and Margo in consultation with Matt had decided that they needed to force the situation and get things moving. They couldn't support and supply Benny Ray indefinitely out in the desert without attracting attention. The ` married couple` took up their position by the old fountain having first been round the entire town asking for work. They had come up with nothing, as they expected. The only incident had been when the daughter of one of the shopkeepers had come screaming into the small shop blood streaming from her head. Rico had taken charge calming the semi-hysterical mother and taking the child to one side. He quickly stopped the bleeding and having obtained Elastoplast from the storekeeper, treated and comforted the sobbing child. The storekeeper was very grateful but still had no work. Rico explained, at his questions, that he had some medical training but had never completed it due to lack of money and had continued to help anyone from his town who needed it and couldn't afford to pay the local doctor. Eventually the doctor had got fed up with this and had Rico run out of town. The storekeeper appeared to swallow the cover story and turned to his wife who was heavily pregnant. He asked if Rico would be around when his wife's time came. The local midwife, or wizened crone of reputedly 83 Years, had recently died and the town had no doctor. Rico shrugged and explained that if he didn't get work he would have to move on. The storekeeper wished him luck and offered him payment for helping his daughter. Rico declined.

The hours passed slowly with no contact being made. Suddenly a jeep drove into town at high speed and came to a halt in a swirl of dust outside the church. A man got out and ran inside. It was difficult to be sure but both Margo and Rico thought it was Martin. Inside the church the storekeeper's wife was making confession and on hearing a man's shouts both she and the priest came out of the confessional box. Both of them knew Martin and would normally have avoided him at all costs, but upon hearing him the storekeepers wife stepped towards him and explained that she thought she could help.

By the motel Rico warned the others when Martin and the storekeeper's wife came out onto the steps of the Church.

" Heads up, we have action. But not the sort I like."

He added as the storekeeper's wife pointed in their direction. Martin ran towards them. Rico and Margo stood up and braced themselves. When Martin stood in front of them he seemed anxious, almost lost for words not angry or threatening. He had no weapon in his hands.

" You," he pointed at Rico," you are a medic?"

Rico nodded.

" Good, you will come with me." He stated. Rico started to object,

" But why, I do not understand."

Martin's demeanor changed. He caught Rico with a backhanded clout that cut his lip and pushed him back. As he turned back Martin held a gun on Margo. His eyes blazed,

" You will both get in the vehicle now, or the woman dies."

The gun was aimed at Margo's chest. Rico nodded, he had little choice. Matt, Deke and Nick were already on the move back to their Jeep.

" What the hell is going on here?" Matt muttered." This is not what I expected."

Deke ran beside him in long loping strides.

" I think this is something else, man." He said.

"Yes," answered Matt, " but what."

Chapter 8

The road west out of Torreblanca.

After Martin had hustled them into the Jeep he didn't even bother to keep the gun on them. Neither did he explain what was going on. Putting the vehicle in gear he sped away from the town as quickly as he had blown in. By silent mutual consent Margo and Rico had decided to play this out. The threat of the gun had been removed and Martin had been more interested in Rico's medical abilities than anything else.

The journey took only a few minutes, the Speedo not going below 80 not withstanding the limit in force and more importantly the state of the road. The potholes were atrocious and Martin seemed to manage to hit every one. They pulled up outside the locked gates of a very large well-guarded villa. A quick toot on the horn had the gates opened and the breakneck speed resumed. At least the drive to the villa was in good condition. Margo and Rico had reached the same conclusion, this was the home of, Chavez, by all accounts the main target of this mission.

As the car halted, spraying up gravel, Martin took the gun out of the holster and motioned them out of the jeep. They were escorted into the villa and kept in a large airy anteroom with stairs leading up to the next floor. A scream echoed through the building, it was a woman in pain.

" Your patient?" queried Margo.

" I think we are about to find out." Rico replied.

Martin had started up the stairs but stopped at the sound of the scream. Before he could resume his journey a man started to descend. Tall dark and what some might call handsome in a cruel way, the man who came down the stairs was obviously distraught. He approached Martin and a frantic conversation ensued. The two men kept their voices quiet to begin but after Martin shrugged and gestured to Rico the man raised his voice and his gestures became angrier. He started to go red in the face and suddenly pushed Martin to one side and ran down the remainder of the stairs. His speed took him to stand almost nose to nose with Rico.

" Is this true?" he demanded, "Can you help my wife?"

Rico shrugged, " I do not know what is wrong with your wife, but if I could see her...." he left the rest of the sentence unsaid.

The man was silent for a moment then spat out " Follow me", turned on his heel and went back up the stairs. Rico and Margo exchanged a quick glance. Margo mouthed" Chavez" in question and Rico nodded. They followed him up the stairs, down a long hall and into a large bedroom.

A massive four-poster bed dominated the room. A woman lay on the bed. She had kicked off all the bedclothes and writhed in obvious pain as she moaned. She was also very pregnant. Two local women stood either side of the bed doing little but add to the level of moaning. Martin pointed to his wife,

" Help her please."

Rico went over to the woman. He explained that he needed to examine her and asked one of the women for hot water, soap and a towel. He asked Margo to sit by the woman and bathe her head. Having turned back his sleeves Rico thoroughly washed his hands and arms.

" Do you have any alcohol?" he asked Chavez.

The man strode across the room, picked up a decanter and handed it to Rico.

" Take out the stopper and pour a little into my hands."

For a second it seemed as though Chavez was going to object to being given orders but he acquiesced.

Rico removed the pregnant woman on to her back, pushed her legs up till her feet were flat on the bed and gently pushed her legs apart. As he started his examination, Chavez stepped in close. Rico chose to ignore him. As Rico continued the woman had another contraction. When her screams subsided Rico asked,

" How long has she been in labor?"

One of the women answered him,

" About 10 hours, Senor."

Rico shook his head and checked the woman's pulse. Chavez was impatient,

" What is wrong? Tell me! Can you help her?"

Rico quickly explained that the baby's head had engaged but that his wife's waters hadn't broken and the pressure caused by the baby's head moving down meant the waters would not break on their own and his wife was growing weaker from the regular very painful contractions.

" What can you do?" Chavez asked close to tears.

" What I really need is an amniohook," said Rico more to himself," but we shall have to improvise."

He turned to Chavez,

" I need your sharpest carving fork or serving fork."

Chavez looked confused. " What?"

Rico explained, "We need to make your wife's waters break. Unless we do this your wife will continue to be in great pain, grow weaker and the baby will become distressed."

" Carving fork." Chavez said still confused.

He hurried off and Rico turned back to the mother. He explained to her that she had to calm down. He would break her waters and the birth would proceed quickly. He further explained that until he could rupture the membrane she would have to lessen the contractions by panting and in no circumstances must she push. The exhausted woman nodded.

Three contractions had passed before Chavez came running back. He had a large two-pronged fork in his hand. He held it out Rico and his hand shook.

" Put it in the bowl," Rico told him as he pointed to the pitcher and bowl on a small bedside table, " and cover it in alcohol." Chavez did as he was told and he then carried the bowl to Rico. Having washed his hands again, Rico took the fork and explained,

" I have to tear the membrane of the amniotic sac. Because the baby's head has engaged I have to slice through the membrane with this. The membrane is very close to the baby's head and what I am going to do will probably leave small scrape marks on the baby's head, but," he emphasized, " no more than that."

The mother nodded wearily, Chavez looked too stunned to take in what Rico had said. Within a few minutes the fork was withdrawn as the flood broke.

"Now," Rico said, with a twinkle in his eye, " get ready to catch."

Chavez looked horrified.

Within 30 minutes the baby was born, a little blue but fine and with a good set of lungs. Weighing about 8 - pounds, according to Rico's estimate, the proud father held the newborn whilst the exhausted mother rested. His gratitude was gushing, he offered Rico money, anything he wanted. As the man allowed the tiny child to grasp his little finger, Rico explained they were trying to reach America so that he could find work to support his family. Chavez looked at him in amazement,

" Is that all?" he laughed.

Standing suddenly, he carried the infant to the door and called to Martin. When the lieutenant arrived he showed off his new son and told him to put their honored guests in a room and bring his car round to the front of the house. Martin led Rico and Margo away.

Some time later Chavez entered the room where Rico and Margo were waiting. He was more composed and they could see in him some of the hardness that Nick's D E A contact had reported. He held a briefcase in his hands.

" My friends, this is a small gift to thank you for giving life to my child and my wife. I know you did not ask for it, but it is the least I can do. That and give you safe passage across the border. My driver and car await you, arrangements have been made and your passage will be smooth and trouble-free. And if there is anything else I can do, know you have the gratitude of a powerful man."

He put the briefcase down, turned on his heel and left. Margo who had informed the Major of what was happening while they had been confined in the room, relayed the new `good tidings` as they walked out of the Villa and could only agree with his summary of the situation." Shit."

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