Author: Rae Evans.
The next day, after Trout had promised to buy a new SUV with a CD player, the Silver Star returned to some sort of normality. Things would be quiet for a time while Trout re-established his position in the CIA hierarchy and Matt decided to make the most of the opportunity by going fishing. Benny Ray declined the offer to accompany him, saying he was going to spend some time with his children. Deke, who had arrived that morning, claimed that he " didn't do fish" and Nick too cried off as he was going back to New York to see his family. Margo gave Matt a " don't even ask me" look when he turned to her. Later that day, she and Benny Ray waved Matt off. Nick had already left and Deke had disappeared a couple of hours previously.
" Peace and quiet. At last." Margo sighed with meaning.
" You know Sweetpea, I think I am going to enjoy the next few days." Benny Ray agreed.
Margo had decided to go shopping, she felt the need to treat herself. Benny Ray had agreed to open up the bar and wait till Margo got back before heading off to see his kids. The door of the bar was open and Benny Ray did not bother to look round when he heard it open and feet approach him. Debbie and the other bar staff were due to clock on. He did turn when he heard a man clear his throat and speak his name. In front of him were two uniformed police officers. They repeated his name,
" Benny Ray Riddle?"
When Benny Ray nodded they continued.
" We have here a warrant for your arrest."
The Miranda caution was lost in Benny Ray's indignation which would have become more physical had not both police officers drawn their guns. Within seconds the riot cuffs were on his hands in front of him and he was being led from the Silver Star to the police car outside. As he was put in the back of the car, Debbie arrived on her rollerblades. She protested with the officers that she needed to know what was happening, but they gave her no information and as the car pulled away all she saw was Benny Ray mouthing to her to get Margo. She nodded vehemently and dashed into the bar. The annoying voice on the cellphone told her time and time again that it had not been possible to connect her call and invited her to try later. She slammed the phone on the bar and wondered what was going on, this was certainly not part of any play she was aware of.
Benny Ray was aware of the arrest process and knew it was not being followed when he was taken straight to a detention cell at the back of the station, bypassing booking in at the front desk. He was manhandled into the cell and left. Two hours later he was visited by three men. None wore uniforms but he could tell by the way that they conducted themselves that they knew what they were doing. None of them spoke, but while two of the men covered him with handguns the third stepped into the cell and coming up behind Benny Ray placed a hood over his head. A gun barrel at the small of his back reminded him not to object. He was led from his cell down a ramp and into what he guessed was some sort of truck.
The journey was relatively short and came to an end somewhere where he could here a metal door being opened to allow them through. He was still hooded as he was led from the truck and walked no more than 50 paces. Eventually the hood was removed and he found himself inside a small room with whitewashed walls and a bucket in the corner. A thin mattress lay on the floor. The three men were with him in the room. It made quite a crowd. The man who had put on his hood carried a briefcase. He placed the briefcase on the mattress and opening it took out a small remote control device which he pointed towards the ceiling and clicked. Replacing the remote control he took out a pair of white overalls, the sort house painters wore, and a pair of latex gloves. The man spoke one word,
Once again Benny Ray was encouraged to comply by the two other men whose accuracy appeared unwavering.
" Want to tell me what is going on here, amigo?" Benny Ray asked calmly.
" No," came the hard reply." If you do not comply my companions will do it for you."
" Nope, I been undressing myself since I was three, I think I can manage now."
He felt somewhat embarrassed as he stood naked in front of the three men but his embarrassment turned to anger when the third man put on the latex gloves and told him to assume the position against the wall. Benny Ray had suffered indignities at the hands of his enemies before but he was dammed if he was going to let this go by without a fight. He knew he would not win but he needed to make a stand. It took all three of them to subdue him and they seemed to take great delight in hurting him enough, but not too much that he was unaware of the intimate examination. Before they left him the third man threw him the overalls, picked up his clothes and once more clicked the remote control. They replaced the riot cuffs and he was left alone in the room cold and angry.
The men returned some hours later and with the door opening out so that Benny Ray could not take advantage of their entry into the room, the third man placed a tray on the floor and left. On the tray was a metal jug with water and some bread. Room-service is not what it used to be thought Benny Ray grimly. He ate the bread and drank some of the water. It tasted strange, maybe a little stale. He decided not to drink any more for the time being and settled on his mattress trying to make sense of the last few hours.
When Margo finally got back to the Silver Star the place was in uproar. Debbie had left in the other staff but had then closed the bar. There were people queuing outside and Margo had to force her way through to gain entry. Debbie quickly explained about Benny Ray's arrest. Margo her mind whirling at this sudden occurrence told Debbie to open the bar and carry on as usual, she would go to the station and find out what was happening. Having reported to her superiors, Debbie had been told to play along with the team, assist in whatever way she could, gain their confidence and find out what was happening. Her concern for Benny Ray's plight seemed genuine, inside she hoped she never saw the man again.
Margo was back in her car and on the phone to Deke. They arranged to meet at the precinct and it was Margo who had to wait for Deke as she gambled with red lights and the traffic to arrive before him. Inside the precinct they came up against a blank wall. Margo had become irate when the desk sergeant informed her he had no record of Benny Ray's arrest. Deke gently pushed Margo to one side spluttering in anger, as he tried to get at the truth.
" My man, our friend was arrested a little over two hours ago by two of this city's finest. Now he must be here and we would be obliged if you would check your records again."
The sight of this giant pierced man had no effect on the weary desk sergeant who repeated what he had said to Margo without even checking his records. Margo, by now seething, grabbed Deke's arm and dragged him from the station. On the steps outside they faced each other and Margo suddenly looked weary.
" I can't believe this is happening now, so soon after our troubles with Trout."
To Deke, she suddenly looked fragile. He wanted to take her in his arms, to hug her and reassure her that everything would be all right, but he knew after these last few days that his relationship with the team was still a little unsure. He put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed.
" We'll find him Margo, I promise."
She didn't look convinced. Separately they made their way back to the Silver Star.
Margo sat at Matt's desk. The room was in darkness and as she contemplated her fears for Benny Ray, she could here the noise of people enjoying themselves coming from the bar below. As soon as she and Deke had returned to the Silver Star earlier, she had tried to reach Matt on his cellphone. There had been no answer then and in the hours that followed. Finally in desperation she had asked Deke to find Matt and bring him home. Deke had been reluctant to leave her alone but the curious mix of anger and helplessness he saw in her eyes when she asked him and which he had seen all day as she paced like a caged panther around the basement, persuaded him that what she and the situation needed was Matt. She gave him full details of Matt's intended itinerary and he was gone promising a speedy return.
She had thought that by sending Deke to get Matt she would feel as though she was making progress, doing something to get Benny Ray back, but after he had gone the walls of the basement seemed to press in on her and she felt more trapped than ever. Eventually her own demons had chased her from the basement to the office.
Light erupted into her thoughts as Debbie opened the office door.
" Margo, someone must have left this on the bar earlier. It's addressed to Matt. I'm sorry I only just found it."
It was a small parcel wrapped in brown paper. Margo tore the paper off and without fear opened the box. Inside was a videotape. She turned to Debbie,
" Thank you Debbie. Will you be OK locking up?"
It was not really a question more a dismissal and reluctantly Debbie left the room after confirming that she would indeed lock up the bar when they closed.
When the gloom settled again Margo slowly pushed the tape into the machine. The TV came on automatically and the faint light it threw out gave an eerie aspect to Margo's face. She watched unmoving as the silent videotape showed Benny Ray being stripped, searched and beaten. When the tape finished she watched it again and again until she knew every second by heart. Finally tears pricked her eyes and picking up the basketball next to her on the couch she threw it at the TV screen and screamed her frustration. Moving suddenly she locked the office door, unable to cope with ' dear Debbie's' inevitable inquiry at the sounds of destruction.
She spent the night in the office finally getting some sleep after she had admitted to herself that she could not solve this, she had no idea why this was happening.
A banging on the front door eventually stirred Margo from her slumbers and still befuddled from lack of sleep she could not understand why the door to the office was locked. A Fed Ex employee waited at the front door. He held a parcel for which her signature was required. The brown paper wrapped box was exactly the same size as the parcel from the previous evening and she practically tore the man's hand off as soon as she had signed. She dashed back to the office and sitting once again at Matt's desk she looked up to see the broken screen of the television and grimaced at her own lack of control.
She opened the parcel in much the same way as the previous night. This time there was an audio tape inside. She paused slightly before putting the tape in the machine, suddenly frightened by what she would hear. Her fears were not unfounded. What she heard on the tape was almost unbearable. Someone, a man, was being tortured. In her mind's eye, Margo envisaged the victim as Benny Ray. This time she shed no tears and her anger became icy determination. She was not to know that the victim was not who she thought it was.
Having opened the bar and ensured that all the staff knew she was not to be disturbed, she made her way to the basement. She was grateful at least that Debbie was not working today she would not have to put up with the young woman's constant look of concern.
With the technology at her fingertips in the basement, Margo played both tapes to try and extract the slightest piece of information that would help. Both tapes were mass produced and bought at any store. Neither had fingerprints on and after carefully checking the wrapping paper and the boxes she could identify only two other sets of fingerprints other than her own. Both parcels had been handled by others, there were lots of smudges and partials, but the only decent prints she could lift that gave her any chance at a proper identification were those two sets. She soon omitted these from her consideration when they turned out to be Debbie's and those of a Fed EX employee called Melvyn Stopworth. She hoped that the audio tape would reveal some extraneous sound that would give a clue. Forcing herself to listen to the tape over and over again, she found nothing and merely gave herself a headache that even Darvil could not clear. Intermittently throughout the day she had tried to reach Deke and Matt on their cell phones. She failed each time and as the day wore on she felt more and more isolated and eventually picked up the phone and called Nick.
" Margo, I just can't. My dad is in hospital and I can't leave my mum. The doctors think he'll be OK but this is his second heart attack and no one is placing any bets ."
" It's all right Nick. You stay where you are. Matt and Deke will be back soon and we will find him."
" Keep me informed, OK?" Nick asked anxiously, his loyalties torn.
" Of course, Nick." Margo reassured him.
As she put down the phone, her hand shook and forcing her fingers into a fist she hit the punchbag for all she was worth. Slumping against the bag she threw her arms around it and hugged. It didn't hug back.
Admitting to herself that she had made no progress, Margo suddenly found herself hungry and in need of human companionship. She made her way slowly up the stairs and into the bar. Once again the place was full, reminding her that whatever her problems life went on regardless. She made herself a banana smoothie. Although she was hungry she did not think she could eat anything. As she stood at the bar drinking the concoction that Deke had first introduced her to she spotted a brown paper parcel on a shelf underneath. Her pulse suddenly racing she picked up the parcel and asked when it had been left. David, in charge that day, told her that he had found it on the bar about 10 minutes earlier. No one had seen who had left it, but he assumed that someone would claim it before the end of the evening. The parcel had no name on it but Margo knew it was for her.
Picking up her glass and the parcel she told David that she would keep the parcel in the office if anyone came to claim it. Slowly she walked to the office. As she closed the door behind her and turned on the lights she dreaded opening the box. She forced herself to do it. Inside she found a bottle of clear liquid, much like you would find in a hospital. There was a printed label on the bottle which read,
" Deadly Nightshade
Patient's name: B R Riddle
Dosage: three-times daily for the next 72 hours."
The label was dated and timed - Wednesday 10.00am. 36 hours had passed since that date and time. 36 hours were left. Margo picked up the phone and called Nick again.
" Deadly Nightshade is lethal stuff Margo. It's one of a range of new designer drugs that have recently hit the streets. It's aimed at the new young things, the weekend crowd. Word has it that occasional use once or twice a week end gives you an incredible high but at the rate it says there, you are talking serious trouble."
" How serious Nick?" Margo asked tiredly.
There was a pause before Nick answered. " It's not called Deadly Nightshade for nothing, Margo. At those doses and within that time frame, he would be dead or dependent. Dead would be better."
Margo closed her eyes and thought for a moment that she was going to lose control. She held on, but could not reply to Nick. A light flashed on the phone, a second call was coming through.
" Nick, I have to go, another call is coming through. It's probably Matt. I'll call you back."
Quickly disconnecting Nick, Margo punched the button for the second line expecting to hear Matt's comforting tones. She was brought up short when the voice she heard was very different.
" You want him back, you give us Trout. You know you only have 36 hours, don't delay or he will be dead ."
The phone went dead before Margo could reply. She sat back in Matt's big chair bringing up her knees to her chest. She rocked slightly backwards and forwards. She finally had an answer to what this was all about. It didn't help at all. Before she had faced ignorance now she faced a choice, Benny Ray or Trout.
The trouble with Jodie had caused Margo to have serious doubts about Trout. After Jodie's death Trout's explanations had seemed more than plausible but now those doubts weighed heavily against the older man in the decision she had to make.Her choice was stark; Benny Ray or Trout. Who was she willing to sacrifice? Trout was their paymaster, without him there would be no job that allowed her to righteously kick ass all over the globe and help people. But Benny Ray was..... well what was he? The best sniper she knew, the only man you would want beside you when you needed to get down and dirty on a mission, a good friend, like a brother? All of the above and maybe more. She had never really examined too closely her relationship with the quiet Southern man, merely taking his presence for granted. Now she had to. Benny Ray, after an initial misunderstanding had never given her reason to doubt his integrity and loyalty, but Trout? All Jodie's arguments echoed in her mind and now Jodie was dead, which was convenient for Trout. She sat back in Matt's chair and let out her breath slowly calming her thoughts and as if a curtain had lifted, her decision was made. It was as simple as that. She couldn`t let Benny Ray die or worse. Trout at the end of the day was expendable. She could always get another job.
Hesitantly her hand reached once again for the phone and she dialled the familiar Washington number. Her voice was calm and steady as she explained to Trout what had happened to Benny Ray and the fact that she could not contact Matt. She neglected to tell Trout about the phone call. Putting down Margo felt no guilt at what she planned to do.
Trout arrived early and he was not alone. Margo immediately recognised Sergeant Eugene NMI Hackin, the young sniper she had last seen in Cuba. Sergeant Hackin quickly explained that he had been with Trout when Margo had called last night. To avoid the young man revealing any more, Trout took up the explanation by saying that Sergeant Hackin had agreed to help him in a small job. Trout gave Margo a knowing look.
" As Sergeant Hackin was on his way to Los Alamitos to undertake some training with the reserve Special Forces' detachments there I thought it would be best if we travelled together."
Margo accepted the explanation without question. It was of little importance to her anyway. If Hackin had stayed around it would have made her job more difficult. She happily saw him off the property and turned to Trout.
" Xavier, I need your help."
After Margo had shown Trout the tapes and the bottle he started making his own inquiries. The day wore on and Margo became more and more nervous at what she knew she would have to do. Her attempts to call Matt became more frequent but with no greater success. Trout too failed to discover anything of any help. The two sat in the basement of the Silver Star and looked at each other, waiting for the phone to ring. When it did they both started but Margo moved quicker and had the receiver in her hand first. She recognised the voice at the other end.
" Do you agree?"
Margo's voice wavered slightly as she replied, " Yes ."
The phone went dead.
" Who was it?" Trout asked, " Matt?"
Margo took a deep breath . " There is one thing I haven't told you. Last night before I rang you I got another call, from kidnappers. They demanded a ransom. They want to swap Benny Ray."
As she had spoken Margo had walked around the room apparently without reason. When Trout asked her who they wanted to swap Benny Ray for she was positioned behind the older man and as he turned to look at her she pulled out her Glock from the small of her back and pointed it at Trout.
" I'm sorry Xavier, they want you."
His jaw dropped open and he stared at Margo.
" You can't be serious?" He asked incredulous.
" Oh Xavier I am deadly serious
Benny Ray was bored. He had been stuck in that room with no company except his own for over two days. They had taken off the riot cuffs after about 12 hours. The occasional visit of his captors took only a few seconds each time and the fare was always the same, bread and water. The water continued to have a strange taste but was drinkable. Each time he was visited he tried to engage his captor's in conversation but to no avail. To pass the time he did press-ups and sit-ups and any combination of the same. All that did was make him more hungry and thirsty and the bread and water he was left hardly filled the gap.
The last time he had been fed and watered only one of his captors had visited him. Maybe they were getting sloppy he thought. Having finished his 50 sit-ups he drank down the water from the metal jug. It was now empty and once again Benny Ray noticed the strange taste. By his reckoning he should be due another visit shortly and so he settled down on the mattress as if he were asleep. An hour later the door opened and through squinted eyelids he saw one pair of shoes. As the man bent down to pick up the tray Benny Ray kicked up hitting him squarely in the groin. Even though Benny Ray was barefooted the blow hurt and the man went down. Grabbing up the metal jug, Benny Ray made short work of his opponent with a blow to the back of the head that dented the jug. Relieving the man of his Sig, Benny Ray checked carefully to see if the coast was clear. It seemed as though he and his captor were the only ones in the building.
As he stepped outside, Benny Ray felt the cold bite of a Los Angeles night and tried to get his bearings. He did not immediately recognise his surroundings and as he moved cautiously off towards lights he could see up ahead he suddenly felt nauseous. His vision blurred and the night seemed to spin round him. Dropping to one knee he felt hot and had difficulty catching his breath. He couldn't understand why he should feel like that. Resting for a few moments he seemed to gather his strength and turned once again towards the lights. They blurred but he stood and made his way towards them. Finally reaching the main road he looked around and thought he recognised where he was, Inglewood. He leant against the wall of a building and thought to himself out of the frying-pan and into the fire. Any hopes he had of finding help were dashed. Inglewood was almost a no-go area at the best of times and on a Saturday night you could bet there wouldn't be a single cop anywhere in sight.
They were two major gangs in LA, the Bloods and the Crips. Both had sets in Inglewood. Racking his brain Benny Ray remembered a television programme he had seen a couple of weeks previously which had explained the rivalry between the Bloods' Inglewood Families Set and the Crips' Inglewood Village Set. All-out war had erupted between the two gangs earlier that year and while the main protagonists had now been killed or arrested, trouble rumbled on. The thought of that television programme engaged him completely and he had to concentrate very hard to remember what he was doing standing in the middle of Inglewood in white overalls and barefooted. He felt sick again and slid down the wall to sit on his haunches. In his drugged state he managed to concentrate on a single thought, to find a phone, to find help.
He tried knocking on doors where people were obviously at home. No one answered. No one in that neighbourhood was going to answer the door in the middle of the night. They were more likely to shoot first and then open the door. Still he tried but after several failed attempts he gave up and decided he would have to walk himself out of trouble. There were times when his feet seemed to have forgotten that walking meant putting one foot in front of the other and he continually had to remind himself that he was heading for Hermosa Beach. The feeling of sickness haunted him constantly and he knew that if he got into trouble he would have great difficulty getting himself out of it.
His luck ran out after 10 blocks. He could see a park in the distance but knew in his weakened state that he could not out run the group of black men who had appeared behind him. They all wore red jackets or bandanas and as they approached him one of them shouted out,
" It's ain't no crab, cuz."
Benny Ray put up his hands to show them he was unarmed and no threat. He did not believe for a moment that this would help him, but the longer he could keep walking and get closer to the park the more chance he had of evading them. The group of young men continued to advance and Benny Ray continued to walk backwards. One young man detached himself from the group. He carried a knife. He was proud to be a Blood that night. At 15 he was old to be initiated into the gang but he had moved to LA with his family only three months ago and had come a long way in that short time. Tonight he would perform his act of loyalty and his brothers had decided that the white man in front of them would be his task. The man would die and the blood would be on his hands.
The group spread out and surrounded Benny Ray. He knew the time had come to stand and fight. The boy and his knife normally would present no problems to the sniper, but he was not at his best and he could not bring himself to contemplate killing the boy unless he absolutely had to. The boy circled round slashing with a knife. He intended to play with the white man for a while, to put on a show for his brothers. About to launch an attack that he hoped would disable the young man without killing him, Benny Ray was suddenly struck by another bout of nausea this time accompanied by cramps that almost doubled him over. The boy took advantage of his weakness stepped in and slashed him down the arm. The pain cleared Benny Ray's head and he knew he needed to end this quickly. Faking another attack he went down on one knee and as the boy moved in he grabbed his arm, twisted it up and around behind his back, relieved the boy of the knife and quickly pressed the knife to the boy's neck warning his gang members to back off. Having made ground on the gang who fell back at this unexpected turn of events, Benny Ray decided he was close enough to the park to make a run for it. He pushed the boy to the ground and drew the Sig.
" There are 8 of you and more than enough bullets here for me to kill each and every one of you. Back off now or I start shooting."
He made more ground towards the park before the gang decided the insult was greater than the danger. The chase was short and once Benny Ray reached the park he knew there was only one outcome. The gang passed within feet of him twice but did not discover his hiding place. As the sun struggled upwards for the start of another day the gang gave up and moved on. Benny Ray came out of hiding and staggered half-a-dozen paces to the path where he collapsed unconscious.
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