Friday 2130 hrs
Matt, Margo, Chance and CJ sat at a corner table sipping their
drinks and discussing the latest news.
"So what exactly do we do now Major," CJ whined.
Does he expect us to just sit here and wait for him?
Matt laughed at the Brits logic. "No CJ, I don't think
Trout expects that at all. I think he's genuinely going to take
a vacation and thinks we should do the same."
"A real vacation," Margo breathes reverently. I
think I'll go to Greece."
"Greece," Chance laughs, "What's in Greece?"
"Mmmmm, the sun the sea and oh yes did I mention the
Matt chuckled as he turned to look at the beautiful face of
the woman he loved but was reluctant to approach.
"Where's Benny Ray," CJ asked sulkily.
Margo pipes in saying, "Our Benny Ray had a date."
"Benny Ray - a date," CJ laughed. "Who is this
"Diana," Matt quips.
"Are those two finally getting serious," Chance
Laughing Margo says, "Diana wants to enlist his help
for a Red Cross mission down in Mexico. The area's been hit pretty
hard by drought and the Red Cross is sending supplies and medical
assistance in. At this very moment Diana is wining and dining
him in the hope he'll feel obligated and go with her."
"With two weeks off I'm surprised he's not going to visit
his kids," CJ says.
"Mary Ellen is taking them to her Mothers so Benny Ray
is out of luck," Margo answers.
"Ahhh, here's the man of the hour now," Chance whispered.
Matt looked at the couple as they walked through the crowded
bar. Their heads close together as they whispered and laughed
about something. Benny Ray looked up and waved as they drew closer,
"Move over Mate," he quips as he slaps CJ arms companionably.
Handing Diana in he slides in beside her.
"So what's the verdict," Margo asks laughingly.
"Oh I had to twist his arm, and promise him the moon
but he finally agreed to go," Diana chuckled as she turned
to Benny Ray childishly sticking her tongue out at him.
His hearty laughter filled the room before he wrinkled his
nose saying, "Sleeping on the ground the air filled with
dust and dirt, tromping through the woods, surrounded by flies
and mosquitoes! A dream come true, what more could a man ask!
Those around the table break into laughter at the rapturous
look on their friends face.
"You my friend are a sick, sick man," CJ chuckled.
"What do you do for entertainment when you're out there,
you don't work the whole time do you?" Margo asked.
"There's always bird watching or additions to my insect
collection," Benny Ray joked.
Pinching him in the side Diana chuckled before saying. "Most
of the villages we visit have lots of children. We play kickball
or Frisbee with them, but their favorite sport is American Baseball.
They don't get to play very often. Most of the kids don't have
any mitts or bats. So we just kinda play with sticks or a tree
limb and tennis balls or whatever we can find at the time. But
the kids love it and we get a little exercise while we're at
"When do you leave," Matt asks, "and you are
taking the Satcom phone right!"
"We take off Monday Sir," Benny Ray answers. "We'll
spend Tuesday in Mexico City, inventorying equipment and loading
Diana picks up where Benny Ray leaves off, "After lunch
we'll head for our first assignment, a little village about 300
miles south. Yes, Matt we are taking a Satcom phone or two with
The evening wears on, as they sit drinking and laughing companionably.
Aztec Hotel, Mexico City
Monday 1530 hrs
Benny Ray and Diana had made a quick trip to the warehouse
to ensure the trucks and supplies were on hand. The rest of the
team would rendezvous at 0800 hrs the following morning to inventory
the gear. The equipment consisted mostly of medical gear, vaccines
and supplies. The villages on their route were very remote. The
Red Cross in conjunction with the Mexican government sent medical
teams into remote areas of southern Mexico several times a year.
The drought only made the mission more imperative. People were
dying and some of the villagers had never had the benefit of
doctors or dentists and the Mexican government wanted to change
that. This was Diana's second venture into the jungles of southern
It took them only a few minutes to count the boxes before
Diana huffed in surprise. Shouting his name Diana called Benny
Ray to her side. "Do you have any idea what these five boxes
"What boxes," he grumped.
"These boxes, the one's with your name on them."
"My name," he grumbled, "They were suppose
to have your name on them."
Turning Diana gave Benny Ray a deep assessing look, on guard
as she noticed the quirky half smile and mischievous look in
"What did you do," she asked laughingly.
"I didn't do a thing," he answered slowly.
"Somehow I doubt that," she answered huffily. "So
are you going to tell me what's in them?"
"No!" he answered with a straight face. "You're
going to have to discover that for yourself."
Glaring at him for several seconds Diana pulled open one of
the boxes. Crowing in delight when she pulled several baseball
mitts from the box."
"How! Why!" Diana asked in awe as she looked up
"For the kids, can't have them playing baseball with
sticks and tennis balls - its un-American."
With a mitt in each hand Diana threw her arms around his neck
and hugged him tight as the tears rolled down her face. Kissing
him she pulls away saying, "Now I know why I love you!"
Benny Ray stood stunned at her words shouting, "You what!"
Turning startled eyes back to him she says, "What!"
"You just said that you loved me," he whispered.
Dropping her eyes she turned away with a wave of her hand
saying, "It's just a figure of speech, I didn't mean anything
"Diana, look at me," he says touching her cheek
lightly. "Tell me the truth!"
Slowly Diana turned to face him, knowing she wasn't going
to be able to brush him off with flippant comments or half-truths.
His sapphire blue eyes softened but still glittered with questions.
He saw pain and vulnerability flash across her face, but he had
to know the truth..
She didn't want to tell him, things between them had settled
into a quiet comfortable relationship. She was thrilled that
he wanted to spend time with her and she treasured every moment
of that time. Baring her soul to him now could so easily change
that and she didn't want it to happen.
She sighed and plopped down on top of the boxes. "Do you
remember the night we met?" Without waiting for a reply
Diana continued. "You walked into that ballroom like you
owned the place. From across the room I could see you moving,
hunting and searching. Your eyes never rested in once place for
very long. You were like a Tiger amongst a herd of Lambs picking
out the choicest morsel. A prowling beast ready to strike! I
was drawn to you, like a horse to water. Something compelled
me to find out who you were. As I came to stand beside you everything
changed. The ice I saw in your eyes melted and you became a different
person, soft and gentle. Seconds later you swept me off my feet
and into your arms. We danced and I was lost."
Diana's eyes filled with pains as she looked up.
"It was magical and I couldn't help myself. I hadn't
felt like that in a very long time. When the dance ended and
you moved away I felt abandoned and the very fiber of my being
ached to be wrapped in your arms once more. As I stepped away
I saw the Tiger rise again. Then a few minutes later the Tiger
struck and your prey - Michael was left torn and bleeding. That
night you slayed a dragon for me!"
"You became this enchanting romantic chivalrous knight
- my protector. You charged into my life and made me feel again.
It was inevitable that I would fall in love with you."
She looked up to see a comical yet stricken look on his face
and she charged on.
"That's not the only reason I fell in love with you,
when I got to know you that love only deepened. I love the person
inside you! Your honesty, your integrity, and especially your
loyalty I've seen the kindness and the compassion inside you
and the way you always think of others before yourself. I've
seen you put your life on the line for those you love and those
you barely know. Your friends and family are the most important
things in your life and I love you for that. I can't help the
way I feel Benny Ray and nothing can change that."
Not knowing what to say he stepped closer and wrapped his
arms around her drawing her close.
Diana wondered if her confession would change their relationship.
Until now, they had been friends and lovers with no commitment
or thought of commitment between them. Her heart ached knowing
how things could so easily change.
Behind them a door creaked open and loud boisterous voices
chatting in Spanish echoed through the warehouse. The slamming
of the door caused them to jump apart like a couple of kids caught
with their hands in the cookie jar.
Benny Ray looked down at the tears glistening on her cheeks.
Wiping them away with his thumbs he cups her face in his hands
and tilts her head up to his. Gently he brushes her lips with
his before whispering, "We'll talk later!"
Smiling gently Diana ruthlessly brushes the tears from her
face as the voices drew closer. Pulling herself together Diana
greets the Customs officer and his team before they begin the
discussion. Behind her Benny Ray, his eyes thoughtful, watched
as she quickly switches gears all signs of their previous discussion
Approx. 2200 hrs
Dinner had been a quiet affair, both lost in though. The crowded
restaurant was not the place for a private discussion. As the
band began to play Benny Ray stood up reaching for Diana's hand.
She rose gracefully to her feet and place her hand in his. Together
they made their way onto the dance floor. The music was sweetly
romantic, a waltz, its tune a rise and fall of heartrending emotion
and they gave themselves up to the music as they circled the
floor. They danced for hours lost in the quiet and contentment
of each other company. The last song of the evening was another
waltz the same waltz they had shared that first evening in the
embassy a long time ago. Benny Ray pulled Diana close and swept
her across the floor. The air between them became thick with
emotion. Electrified, their bodies melded together. Their eyes
met. Hungrily Benny Ray leaned down and captured her lips the
heat between them rising.
Diana groaned at the fires he ignited within her. Pulling
away she looked into blue eyes blazing with desire.
Stepping back Benny Ray pulled Diana from the floor, throwing
a few bill on the table they quietly left the restaurant heading
for the hotel.
Taking the room key from her purse Diana opened the door leading
the way inside. Slowly she turned as Benny Ray kicked the door
closed behind him. Gently his fingers took the key and purse
from her hands and dropped them carelessly on a small table.
Dimming the lights he flipped the switch on the radio. A sweet
lilting tune swept through the room as he gathered her into his
arms and carried her into the bedroom. His fingers caressed her
body through the thin silk of her dress. Her skin grew hot beneath
his touch throbbing hungrily.
Tuesday 0625 hrs
Benny Ray slowly returned to consciousness, Diana's warm soft
body nestled close beside him. He reached over and stroked her
cheek tucking a stray lock of blonde hair behind her ear. At
his touch she sighed and snuggled closer and he smiled.
He was a stunned that this woman lying beside him, so strong
and self-assured loved him. He looked up at the ceiling as his
fingers tenderly traced a path across her shoulder. She had always
kept herself a little apart from him. Giving of her body but
never her self. Her declaration of love had surprised him. Her
assessment of his character amazed him. He had never thought
of himself as particularly kind or compassionate but seeing the
pain in her eyes had melted his heart.
He'd had more than his fair share of women but his record
was far from perfect. Two failed marriages made him shy away
from commitments. But the feelings Diana evoked were far from
platonic. When he was with her he felt different, whole somehow,
why that scared him he didn't know.
They'd worked together on several missions, she was good,
damn good and he never hesitated knowing she was protecting his
back. They made a great team!
He lay there trying to examine the feeling he had for her.
He felt protective of her and would give his life to safeguard
her from harm but he would have done the same for anyone on his
team. Did he love her? He thought maybe he did.
He drifted back to sleep thoughts of her flitting through
his mind. He awoke with a start sitting upright as the alarm
on the nightstand went off. Wrapped in his arms Diana was dragged
up with him. Her fist came up at the sudden movement and Benny
Ray laughed at her fighting stance. She looked like a spitting
kitten with her claws outstretched ready to strike.
Her movements were instinctive but her naked body aroused
a different emotion in him.
She blinked several time before she realized that it was only
the alarm that had shaken her from a sound sleep. She blushed
furiously as she lowered her fists and brushed the hair from
her face. It had been a long time since she had felt so defensive.
"Good Morning," she purred.
He groaned in response but a knock at the door interrupted
It was Diana's turn to groan as she grabbed her wrapper from
the chair and headed for the door. Peeking through the security
hole she mumbled something indistinguishable before opening the
door a crack to peer into the hallway.
Benny Ray saw the businesslike mask as it dropped into place,
she stood straight and tall as she greeted the man at the door.
The conversation was short and she smiled at the intruder before
closing the door. She mumbled something unintelligible and turned,
resting her back and head against the door.
"That was Mike, we are suppose to meet downstairs in
Swinging his legs off the bed Benny Ray headed for the shower.
A few minutes later, squeaky clean he shrugged on a light blue
polo shirt and tucked it into a faded pair of blue jeans. Lost
in thought Benny Ray sat on the bed lacing the strings of his
boots as he glanced at the woman walking across the room. One
minute she was a gentle passionate lover, the next moment a fierce
warrior, seconds later replaced by a cool calm professional.
Somehow Benny Ray knew he'd lost control of the situation,
his jumbled thoughts sent a shiver of apprehension coursing down
his back. Double knotting the laces he pulled the leg of his
jeans down over his boot and stood up. He took a deep breath
and pulled himself back under control. Unaware that the mask
he had so recently attributed to Diana had dropped into place
on his own inscrutable visage. His sapphire blue eyes held a
hint of melancholy as he stowed his gear.
Red Cross Warehouse
Mexico City 1030 hrs
Benny Ray stood leaning against one of the vehicles. They'd
only been fifteen minutes late to breakfast and Benny Ray had
gotten his first glimpse of his traveling companions for the
next ten days. The little troop consisted of a second medical
doctor by the name of Mike a dentist Henry and his assistant/wife
Darlene. Two nurses Julie and Jennifer were there to assist the
doctors. Rounding out the little group were two other men assigned
to the team as general help and drivers. In Benny Ray's mind
the two men were to all intents and purposes bodyguards and security.
He was glad to see that they weren't the run of the mill bodyguard
wannabe's. From their stance and carriage they were professionals
probably military or Intel trained and they took their jobs seriously.
They had been introduced as Mark and Peter and Benny Ray looked
forward to working with them.
Like him Mark and Peter carried permits allowing them to carry
rifles and concealed weapons during their forays into the Mexican
Jungle. Though trouble was not expected the interior jungle was
a dangerous place. The land was filled with deadly animals and
reptile ready to munch on any unsuspecting intruders.
Nine people in all set out with three loaded vehicles - Humvee's
six hours later. Traveling south they stopped at dusk and set
up camp turning in early. Another half day of traveling would
see the team at their first village.
As they drew away from the city the terrain began to change,
the far-reaching evidence of a deadly drought was everywhere.
Leafless trees and dry cracked riverbeds littered the landscape.
Bleached bones of thirsty starving animals littered the landscape.
The fields lay barren as only the strongest of weeds, now brown
and lifeless beat their way through the hard packed earth.
Approaching noon the convoy pulled into the town, a small
remote village of about 200 people. Some of which had never seen
a doctor or dentist in their lives.
Mike was team leader, this being his fourth trip into the
area. He greeted the village elder with respect telling him of
their mission. It wasn't long before the villagers were lined
up. Many surly faces stared at the newcomers but as the tents
and equipment were set up and the sick and wounded dealt with
the attitudes began to change. Smiling faces became the norm
and the atmosphere turned to a hearty welcome.
Benny Ray shared an amused glance with Diana as a gaggle of
chattering, reluctant children were herded toward their tent.
Speaking in Spanish, Diana calmed their fears as she inoculated
them against the areas most virulent diseases.
Hours later Diana pushed a stray lock of hair from her face
as she stretched the kinks from her back and arms. It was nearing
eight pm and the team had worked non-stop for close to eight
hours and Diana knew it would be at least another hour maybe
more before the current group of people would be taken care of.
Her face lit up when Benny Ray came through the door carrying
a tall glass of iced tea and a ham and cheese sandwich. "Take
a break," he whispered, "I think you deserve it."
"Mmmm," she whispered, "This is heavenly, thank
you," Though she continued to work.
"I just love modern technology," Diana murmured.
Not surprised when she found the vehicles were equipped with
heavy-duty batteries and refrigerators that ran on propane gas
designed to last for several weeks. They had even provided a
portable X-ray machine and the team had dubbed it Bertha. And
over the coming days Bertha would see a lot of use.
It wasn't until the afternoon of the next day that the boxes
of baseball equipment were brought out. The children laughed
with glee as the gloves, bats and balls were handed out. The
game became a riotous comedy of errors as the children broke
every rule they were taught and created new rules as the game
went on. The Red Cross team split themselves between the two
opposing teams to help the children learn the game. What the
adults learned was how easily they bruised.
The first inning was a learning game. After that it was a
free for all. The teams were evenly matched as the innings rolled
on. Henry was the first to fall victim to the children's abundance
of energy. Playing shortstop he and the third baseman made a
play for ball at the same time. Henry and a young man of thirteen
collided as they both reached for a ground ball. It was a riotous
tumble of arms and legs. The third baseman walked away clean.
Henry on the other hand had taken an elbow to the eye. The swelling
and purple bruise was already forming as he lay on his back in
the dust groaning. Everyone rushed to his aid, most tried hard
to suppress the laughter.
Darlene tugged him to a sitting position as Mike checked the
eye and poked at the bruise. "You'll live," he declared.
Trying hard not to laugh Darlene jumped to her feet yelling,
"I'll get some ice."
"I'm gonna strangle her," they all heard Henry mumble.
Mike hauled him to his feet and Henry sat out the rest of
the game with an ice pack plastered to his eye.
A quiet good natured rivalry began between Mark and Benny
Ray to see who could run the fastest, hit the farthest and catch
the most balls. After the first game Mark had proved the hardest
hitter, but Benny Ray had caught the most ball. The next couple
of games saw them evenly matched but they had many more games
The team stayed at the first village several days, using it
as a central point and making daily excursions into the forests
to check some of the outlying villages. Some villages were hit
hard by the drought, but all still had fresh water. But if the
drought continued for much longer the water wasn't going to stay
fresh for long.
The morning of the fifth day saw the team loaded and heading
south. Their next stop was another 200 miles to the southwest.
They would be stopping there for two days.
The tiny village boasted less than 60 occupants but the children
were overjoyed at the baseball equipment, to the determent of
the team. Once Henry's eye had healed it was discovered that
he was outstanding pitcher. Darlene had made the mistake of telling
Mark and Pete of his prowess. Fast Pitch was his game and two
out of three times the ball would fly by the two bodyguards.
They were determined to conquer his pitch but so far had failed
The two nurses had opted out of playing - they had become
the designated Umpires. Darlene was playing on Mark, Mike and
Pete's team, Diana, Benny Ray and Henry their opponents. It was
a toss up as to who was enjoying the games most, the children
or the adults.
Pete and Benny Ray had been chosen to play the catchers positions.
They seemed to be the quickest at dodging wild pitches and carelessly
The villagers and the Red Cross team spent many satisfying
though not very relaxing hours playing ball.
The teams third and last stop was another hundred miles south.
The village consisted of over a hundred people most were older
men and women, but there were at least a dozen or more children
ready to tackle the game of baseball.
A young boy of about 12 had attached himself to Benny Ray.
Petri was his name and the boys' loyalty and fervor had garnered
a lot of ribbing from Mark and Peter. Petri had been dubbed the
"Squire." Benny Ray spent many hours with the boy.
The boys' father had been killed when he was nine and his mother
was happy to see her son smiling again after so many years.
The baseball games in the new village were no different from
the previous ones. The children played the game with reckless
abandon. Running, crunching, smashing and laughter were the norm.
Mark and Peter had yet to connect a solid hit off of Henry.
Henry of course saved his best and fastest pitches for the duo.
Mike was the next to fall victim to the game's intensity.
It was the top of the third inning and Mike was playing second
base. The youngster hit a solid hit over the shortstops head.
As the young hitter rounded first the outfielder threw the ball
hoping to catch him out at second. Thrown high, Mike leaped and
twisted in the air only to see the runner sprinting beneath him.
Twisting sideways Mike came down hard on his left leg and the
ankle twisted beneath him.
Bertha was warmed up and ice was called for as his shoe and
sock were stripped away. Thirty minutes later Mike sat on the
sidelines with his ice wrapped ankle propped up. His injury didn't
stop him from cheering and jeering as he saw fit.
The spent two days in the village proper. The third day saw
them heading east for a small village in the mountains. The drought
had hit the little village hard, many of their animals were dead
or dying and the water was nearly gone. Mike, from his crutches
tried to convince the villagers to leave and head into the valley
where water and forage was available. But it was their home and
few would take his advice.
They had two days left before they were scheduled to return
to Mexico City. That evening's game would be the last of their
baseball. The next two days would see the team heading west to
care for several small settlements in the mountains. The villagers
would loan them guides, horses and pack animals for the three-hour
But for now they children had coaxed them into playing one
more game. The game started tamely enough, until Pete finally
managed to get a sold hit on one of Henry's pitches making it
to third base. The children were wound to a fever pitch as Mark
came to bat. All he needed was a single and Pete would score
and the game would be won.
Benny Ray heckled Mark mercilessly as he stepped up to the
plate. But Mark only dug in harder. The first pitch flew by and
Mark swung with all his might. Whoosh, and behind them Jennifer
cried "Strike!" The children screamed and the crowd
roared with excitement.
The second pitch flew by high and wide to the outside and
the cry this time was "Ball!"
On the pitchers mound Henry caressed the ball and smirked
across at Mike. Winding up he threw it fast and hard. Mike swung
and the bat in his hand shivered as it connected, but the ball
swerved right out of play.
The crowd roared overshadowing the slight cracking sound from
the bat in Mark's hands.
Mark's eyes grew hard as he hunkered down into this stance
and lifted the bat into position. Behind him, his mitt at the
ready Benny Ray settled the catchers mask into place. The crowd
grew deathly quiet; the count rang out - 1 ball 2 strikes. Winding
up Henry threw the ball fast and straight, Mark saw it and grinned,
it was perfect and he swung. The earth-shattering crack of ball
against bat released the tension and the crowd jumped to their
But instead of flying outward the ball tumbled onto the field
as the ominous cracking of the bat reverberated around the tiny
clearing. The bat split in two as the ball connected. Mark stepped
toward first base and glanced at the broken bat in his hand.
Down the first base line Diana heard the crack. She spun toward
home and saw the end of the bat as it flew backwards at Benny
Ray. It hit hard and she saw him lifted off his feet as he toppled
backward to lie still. With a small cry Diana sprinted down the
first base line sliding to a stop on her knees beside him.
He lay deathly still his eyes closed as she reached to feel
for a pulse. The rise and fall of his chest and the hammering
pulse was mute evidence he was alive. Beneath her touch he began
to move as Mike knelt on his other side. Benny Ray's movements
were stiff and jerky as he tried to lift his hands to his head.
"Take it easy Benny Ray," Diana whispered. His head
moved toward the sound and that's when she got her first look
at the mask. The bat had hit the left side of his head and the
twisted wire of the mask was bent and broken. A rivulet of blood
seeped down the left side of his face. Purpling bruises were
already forming on his forehead and cheek.
Diana looked up at the hovering faces around her and snapped
into action. "Jen go fire up Bertha, Petri get my bag out
of the tent. Mike hold him while I take the mask off."
She could feel Benny Ray's body shivering beneath her touch.
His brow was deeply etched with lines of pain as she moved closer
and whispered in his ear. "We're here Benny Ray, we're right
beside you. I need you to lie still for me, can you do that?"
Slowly she could feel him calm beneath her touch though his
body still trembled. She gently lifted the twisted mask from
his face. But a piece of the broken metal was imbedded in the
skin. With a gentle tug the metal came away and the torn skin
flowed red as the pressure was released and the blood began to
stream from the wound. Beside her Petri laid the medical bag
on the ground. Pulling out a wad of gauze Diana laid it across
the cut trying to stop the bleeding as she assessed the damage.
"Looks like it might need a couple of stitches,"
On the ground Benny Ray lay in a world of tortured silence.
The fire in his head left no room for thought. He could barely
draw breath. The darkness hovered around him like the inky blackness
of a moonless night. Only a tantalizingly familiar voice kept
the darkness at bay.
"Benny Ray can you hear me, open your eyes," she
whispered. It seemed like a lifetime before he answered Diana's
"Come on Big Guy, come talk to me," she coaxed.
She saw his eyes open but he didn't answer.
The voice was insistent and his eyes fluttered open but he
couldn't see. His world was gray and blurry as he tried to focus
on something other than the pain hammering away at his consciousness.
She tried again calling his name. This time he swallowed convulsively
before his voice whispered her name. "Diana."
Above him Diana sighed in relief, "Hey Big Guy, welcome
back to the land of the living."
Benny Ray chuckled then grimaced as the hammering in his head
Diana heart twisted at the pain she saw on his face. She whispered
his name again calling, "Benny Ray," and waited as
his eyes flickered open once more.
"Do you know what happened?"
"Not sure," his cracking voice whispered.
"Do you know where you are?"
Benny Ray grinned a crooked little smile before answering,
"Lying in the dirt in the middle of a field somewhere in
Diana sighed in relief.
Taking a deep breath Benny Ray tried to rise, but the effort
was too much for his pain-wracked skull. He sank back to the
ground and closed his eyes as the lashing pain pounded him.
Gentle insistent hands lifted him carefully onto the stretcher
Mark had laid beside him. A few minutes later Benny Ray was comfortably
settled in bed and Bertha was put to work. He was barely aware
of Mike and Diana as they quickly and quietly went to work. It
took four stitches to close the cut on his forehead and by then
the X-Rays were ready.
Together Mike and Diana looked at the films. "Concussion,"
they both agreed.
"Should we call for a medivac," Jennifer asked cautiously.
"I don't think so Jen," Mike answered. "He's
got a concussion, but I've seen worse. The best thing for him
now is rest and quiet."
A crowd had gathered outside the tent awaiting news. Petri
has snuck beneath the waiting crowd to stand at the foot of Benny
Ray's bed. He needed to assure himself that Benny Ray still lived.
Petri's heart had turned in his chest when he had seen his friend
"Is he going to be all right," Petri whispered to
Kneeling beside the boy Diana gathered him close saying, "He'll
be fine Petri, it takes more than a little bump on the head to
take Benny Ray out. I can personally attest to that fact."
Chuckling Diana's thoughts turned back to their first encounter.
"Why don't you sit with him a while, I'm sure he'd like
Diana's heart ached at the pain she had seen reflected in
Benny Ray's eyes and on his face, but there was nothing she could
do. Medications would ease the pain but also mask a more serious
injury. Right now and for the next several hours he would need
Benny Ray lay still and silent. His stomached recoiled each
time he moved. He could hear voices all around him but choose
to ignore them. It was the only way he could deal with the pain
and nausea encompassing his meager world.
Diana and Petri waited beside him as evening settled over
the little village. Diana called him back to life several time.
He wanted to ignore the call but he knew she needed him to answer.
His eyes fluttered open and he would whisper her name before
his lids grew heavy once more.
He awoke near midnight to find her sitting beside him reading
by the soft glow of a lantern. He turned his head and immediately
regretted it, hissing as the hammering commenced once more. The
pain washed away and he opened his eyes to see her hovering over
"Hey," she whispered in greeting, "Are you
feeling any better?"
"Not really," he whispered knowing she wouldn't
stand for any evasiveness.
"You took a pretty good hit, you had Petri here worried."
"Is he ok," Benny Ray asked his voice filled with
"He's fine, he's been here all night, I didn't have the
heart to send him away."
"He's a good kid," Benny Ray murmured.
"Yes he is," she answered.
Benny Ray grinned wryly as he spoke again, "I hate baseball!"
Diana laughed softly at the comical expression on his face.
"It wasn't that bad was it?"
"I never realized how dangerous the game of baseball
could be, it's been one disaster after another since we stared
"True," she answered, "but I don't think anyone
regrets a minute of it, and you shouldn't either."
"God," he whispered, "It feels like someone
dropped an anvil on my skull. I don't suppose you could turn
back the clock and we could start this day all over again."
"I wish," she muttered beside him.
"Baseball," he murmured, "I can still remember
the first time I played the game. Only it wasn't really baseball.
It was more like that stickball you talk about back at the Silver
Star. God that brought back some old memories! My brother, Billy
Joe had found an old tennis ball and I snuck into the house and
stole the handle from my mom's broom. We played for hours that
day. Mom tanned my hide for taking the handle. She didn't care
that we were playing with it; she was more upset I took it without
"We could get lost in that game and most days we did.
Forgetting about everything when we were playing. Somehow mom
scraped up enough money to buy us a real bat and ball that Christmas."
Diana watched as his eyes changed, going all soft and dreamy.
"That was the best Christmas I ever had," he whispered
before drifting back to sleep.
Diana leaned down brushing her lips against his cheek. She
hugged the memory close as she tucked the blanket around him
and settled back in the chair. He rarely talked about his childhood.
It wasn't that he had a bad childhood, just painful in many ways.
Day 11 - 0600 hrs
Diana had slept in the chair and woken early. Her bags were
already packed and the little entourage would set off at 0630
for the mountain trail. She looked forward to spending time in
the saddle; she rarely got the chance to ride these days. Quietly
she went about her business. Petri had been shooed out of the
tent thirty minutes ago. He was to be one of the guides leading
them into the mountain. He had reluctantly left and only because
she had convinced him Benny Ray would be fine.
Benny Ray stirred at her movement and woke slowly. The pain
in his head remained, though at a more manageable level. He suddenly
remembered the team was headed into the mountains and pulled
himself up into a sitting position and slid his feet to the floor.
He grabbed for the side of the bed as the world around him spun
Diana reached out and grabbed him, pushing him back onto the
bed. She growled at him saying, "I don't think so big guy,
you are staying put!"
"No buts, you are staying right there in that bed until
I get back, do you understand me?"
"Yes Ma'am," he whispered giving in gracefully,
the ache in his head more than enough to convince him he had
no business going anywhere.
He reached up wrapping his hand around her neck, drawing her
close. "Be careful," he whispered.
Diana smiled down at him, "I will."
He grinned as he pulled he closer, kissing her gently.
Diana sighed and broke the contact, "Mike is here, his
ankles' still swollen so he's not able to travel. He'll be in
to check on you and change the bandage. If you need anything,
just holler, he'll come hobbling," she chuckled.
Diana leaned close stealing another kiss before she walked
They had spent nearly three hours in the saddle, their guide
had informed them the village was near and they would reach it
in less than 30 minutes. The little group rode slowly, Jen and
Darlene not as comfortable in the saddle as the rest of them.
Nearly and hour ago Diana had sensed something, the jungle
was quiet, too quiet. Birds chirped close by, but several times
she had seen them startled into flight. Mark had taken up the
lead with the guide beside him. Slowing down she had made her
feeling know to Pete who was riding behind her. Henry, Darlene,
Jen and Julie were spread out in the middle of the little group,
with Petri directly in front of her.
It happened suddenly, the air was split with wild cries as
arrows hissed through the trees. She heard howls of pain as arrows
struck their targets. Behind her Pete was knocked from his horse
an arrow protruding from his shoulder. He pulled the Glock from
its holster and fired shot after shot into the forest. Pulling
the rifle from its scabbard Diana jumped off her horse. She could
hear the frantic cries of the little group as the arrows continued
to rain down. Reaching up she pulled Petri from his horse. "Run,
Hide," she whispered. Scared eyes looked up at her as she
hugged him tight before pushing him into the underbrush.
Petri scrambled into the brush moving as quietly as he could
before he found a hiding place in the rocks. There he waited
shivering hands covering his ears as the sounds of battle raged
Mark had gone down hard, an arrow in his side. He lay silent
and unmoving. The guide beside him lay face down in the dirt
a deadly arrow protruding from the middle of his back. Henry
had taken an arrow in the leg but the fall from his horse had
knocked him unconscious. Diana could hear the other women's screams
as one by one the men went down. Then it struck her, none of
the women had been harmed, only the men. And that frightened
her more than anything else.
Ten feet away Pete continued to fire though his left arm was
useless. She lifted the rifle to her shoulder and sighted off
into the brush. The crosshairs of the scope found movement in
the brush and she fired. She didn't wait to see the man fall
from his perch to lie senseless on the hard ground. Swinging
the rifle left she spied another target and pulled the trigger.
A second man went down. Behind her Pete stopped to reload. He
was caught off guard as an arrow found it's mark in his chest.
He gurgled a last dying breath as Diana turned toward him. The
forest went deathly quiet as Pete hit the ground.
To her left she heard Darlene screaming in panic, "No,
leave me alone," she pleaded, "Please let me go."
Masculine voices spoke harshly as Darlene continued to scream.
More dark bodies drifted out of the forest capturing Jennifer
and Julie. She could hear the rustling of brush as they moved
in her direction. But their attackers had seen her use of the
weapon and knew she wouldn't hesitate to use it on them. The
three women stepped onto the trail each held captive by a grotesquely
painted figure behind them.
A deep voice echoed through the forest. Diana spun to face
them the rifle tucked into the pocket of her shoulder.
A voice clamored for her attention as the man holding Julie
shook her hard. "I don't understand what you want,"
Julie cried. "I don't understand."
But Diana understood, the voice was telling her to put the
weapon down and give herself up. Anger burned inside her but
Diana knew she really had no choice. Slowly she stood but the
weapon at her shoulder never wavered. Only one bullet remained
in the rifle she had buried the box beneath the brush, unwilling
to loose a loaded rifle to the savages standing before her. Ever
so slowly she dropped the rifle to her side. Rough hands pulled
it from her grip and grabbed for her. Unwilling to give in gracefully
Diana kicked out hitting one of the men in the groin. She gloated
as he grabbed for his privates and hit the ground groaning in
pain. Lashing out once more she caught a second attacker in the
nose. Blood gushed from his broken nose as three more men moved
in taking her to the ground. She kicked and thrashed about but
it was useless, she was trapped beneath them.
A deep voice echoed in her head as she was dragged back to
her feet. She stood straight and tall baring her teeth at the
man who stood in front of her. His voice echoed again, and she
shivered at his words. "You have the spirit of a warrior
and will make a fitting sacrifice."
"Take them," the dark voice cried.
Hidden in the rocks Petri could hear the struggle and he closed
his eyes against the madness. The sudden silence frightened him
and stilled as a booming voice echoed around him. He heard the
cries of the women and watched as Diana struggled. His heart
ached as they were pushed up the trail. He waited long precious
moments as the jungle grew silent once more. He crept from his
hiding place and snuck back to the trail. What he saw sickened
him. Men he had come to know and trust were lying on the ground.
He stumbled down the trail knowing he had to get away.
He ran, his mind filled with the torment of what he had seen.
In front of him he spotted one of the horses. During the attack
the animals had scattered this one had been Pete's and was over
its fright now grazing peacefully on the side of the trail. With
soothing voice and hands Petri captured the animal and threw
himself into the saddle. Heedless of the danger he raced back
to the village.
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