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Author's Note: This is going to be the first story in a two or three part series. Hope you enjoy and any comments are appreciated.

 

Costa Rica
2303 hours

Matt Shepherd gasped for breath. He stumbled along, barely managing to keep up
with Margo. Someone else grabbed his elbow and propelled him along.

"C'mon, Major, just a little farther!" Rico yelled, turning to fire behind them.

The team splashed across a shallow creek, quickly going back under cover in the
thick vegetation on the other side. Benny Ray slowed the group down as the
machinegun fire behind them slowed and finally stopped. They crossed the small
ridge that adjoined the creek. Once they reached the other side, Benny Ray halted them for a quick break.

"Everyone okay?" Rico, the team's medic, asked.

"Yep." Benny Ray settled down into a position to cover their rear.

"I think so," Margo said.

"No. I'm tired, and hungry, and there's no burgers in a hundred miles." Nick
complained loudly.

"He's okay," Benny Ray said, looking over his shoulder.

"Matt?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. They knew we were coming."

"Oh, yeah." Margo went over her weapon, checking to make sure that it was still in working order.

"I thought we had that problem taken care of," Rico said, remembering what had
happened with Debbie, who was now residing in a federal prison.

"I guess not."

Two Weeks Earlier
The Silver Star
1400 hours

Matt looked up from the engine of his old Corvette. Trout was standing there,
keeping his distance from the oily rags on the ground. "What is it Trout? And those aren't going to bite."

"You're usually the one who gets on me for not saying hello."

"It's my day off. What do you want?"

Trout sighed.

"Fine. Hello, Trout. Now will you tell me what you want?"

"I wouldn't normally ask you to do this."

"Yes you would."

Trout sighed again, then handed Matt the familiar manila envelope. "Good luck,
Matt."

Two hours later all of the team members were assembled in the basement. "Did Trout say what he wanted?" Margo asked as she finished disassembling one of her
rollerblades.

"It's all here. We're going to Costa Rica. It's a simple retrieval job, someone got their hands on classified records again and we're going to get them back."

"There's that word again." Nick looked suspiciously at Matt.

"He's got a point. Benny Ray, hand me that wheel, would you?" Margo said.

"Don't worry. We leave tomorrow."

Costa Rica
2315 hours

But the flight down had been the simplest part, Matt reflected. They hadn't even made it near the compound when they walked straight into an ambush. After getting through that, Matt and Nick had gotten into the compound, barely managing to get the records out before half a company had opened up on them. They had been running ever since, managing to stay one step ahead so far. Matt got to his feet slowly, signaling to everyone that it was time to get going.

"Chopper pickup's in that field, 'bout two kilometers," Benny Ray said softly, pointing to the spot on the map.

"I don't like it. There's not a lot of cover." Matt looked over the terrain ahead, using binoculars.

"They're on the way. We go slowly and I'll keep us on this ridge as long as possible." Benny Ray started off, moving through the jungle without a sound.

The line chief ran over to the chopper, signaling the pilot to take off. Deke started the engines on the old Huey. "Looks like someone needs taxi service."

"Yeah, but do they give good tips?" His copilot grinned.

Nick heard the chopper first. He grinned, thinking that the burgers he had talked about earlier were sounding better and better right now. A loud whistle and then an explosion sent him diving for cover.

"Mortars! Run!" Matt yelled, abandoning any attempt to stay quiet.

More fire came in. One round hit a tree, nearly sending it crashing down on Margo. She ran faster, keeping up with Matt. Rico came last, still covering the rear.

Deke set the chopper down in the meadow. The gunner waved for the team to
hurry up, not wanting to be a target for any longer then he had to. Benny Ray hit the ground halfway across the meadow, going into a prone position to cover the team. Matt was even with the sniper's position, turning to check on Rico when another round impacted just in front of the running medic. Rico disappeared in the explosion.

"Rico!" Benny Ray bolted up from his spot.

"No!" Matt grabbed the sniper from behind, knowing with a sick feeling that Rico was gone. But Benny Ray had other ideas. With one quick move, he swept Matt's feet out from under him, sending the major crashing to the ground.

Benny Ray didn't look back. He ran toward where he had last seen his friend, not hearing the next mortar round. Something hit him hard on his right side, throwing him off his feet. Benny Ray struggled back to his feet, trying to run and not able to figure out why his right leg didn't work.

Matt grabbed the sniper, throwing him over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. Benny Ray struggled, trying to get to Rico. The chopper medic came over to help. Deke took off as soon as they were on the chopper.

It took both Matt and Margo to hold Benny Ray down while the medic looked at him. "You need to hold still, sir," he said, trying to get the wounded man to calm down.

"Benny Ray, just relax." Matt said, hoping that the sniper would recognize his voice.

"Hold his arm, please, sir." The medic gave Benny Ray an injection. After a few minutes he did calm down, although that was only because of the sedative.

"Is he okay?" Nick couldn't stop shaking.

"He's fine, Nick," Margo said, trying to reassure him, and realizing that her hands were shaking too.

"Major?" Benny Ray's voice was barely a whisper.

"I'm right here."

"Where's Rico?"

Matt met Margo's eyes. "He's not here, Benny Ray. Hang on, we'll get you to the hospital."

Margo held Matt's gaze, knowing what he was thinking. That not everyone was
coming home this time.

Coronado Naval Hospital
1100 hours

"Well, you can take him home now, Major Shepherd." The discharge nurse cast a
glance at the quiet man sitting in the wheelchair.

"Thank you, ma'am." Matt looked down at the paperwork on the counter in front of him. "I appreciate you guys taking care of him."

"It's our job. But you're welcome." She smiled.

Matt returned it, then turned and walked over to Benny Ray. "You ready to go home?"

"Sure, Major." Benny Ray spoke quietly, not seeming to care one way or the other.

Margo was waiting out front with the Suburban. They got Benny Ray settled in on the bench seat. Matt returned the wheelchair to the nurse. He climbed behind the wheel and carefully steered the truck out of the hospital. They had all taken Rico's loss hard. Time had allowed most of them to deal with their grief. Benny Ray, however, held on to the hope that the medic was still alive. He never talked about that mission, not even to Matt. The Major had talked to everyone in the hospital he knew, trying to help, but the only answers he got were that Benny Ray just needed time.

When they got back to the Silver Star, Nick was outside holding onto several pizza boxes. The ex- DEA agent waved when he saw them. Matt grinned when he heard Margo's stomach growl.

"Sorry," she said, with a slightly embarrassed grin.

Benny Ray tried a smile but it didn't reach his eyes.

"I got lunch. Some of that barbecue chicken pizza you like, Margo, and pepperoni and mushroom for us normal people."

Margo glared at him. "It's good! Benny Ray likes it."

"Yeah, well who said he's normal?" Nick was trying, in his own way, to try to get Benny Ray to smile again.

Matt silenced them with a quick look. He stayed next to Benny Ray as the sniper got himself and his crutches down the ramp in back of the hotel. It was the old one, used for truck deliveries when the hotel was open. Benny Ray looked around once they were inside. Nothing had changed. That was reassuring, at least.

As soon as they assembled in the kitchen, Margo made a beeline for the pizza. Half a slice was already gone before Matt got Benny Ray settled on the couch. The injured man didn't look too happy about having to spend any more time there. But maybe being home would take the sniper's mind off Rico, at least for a little while.

Costa Rica
1535 hours

Twelve-year-old Roberto Hernandez ran along the path, followed by his dog. He had heard the noise earlier and, being curious, had gone to check it out. He looked after the dog, who was investigating something lying next to the trail.

"What's that?" The dog looked up at his owner, tail wagging at his discovery.

Rico heard someone speaking in Spanish and a dog barking. He groaned, knowing
better than to get up.

"Hey, what's wrong?" Roberto peered down at the medic.

Right before he passed out again, Rico managed to ask for help. Roberto looked the man over, then, realizing what had happened, ran for home. Within the next half hour, Roberto's parents had taken Rico back to their house.

"Who is he?" Roberto's mother asked.

"I don't know. A soldier, maybe?"

"We don't need one of those here. What if he works for-"

"I don't think he works for the cartel." Roberto's father knew about the summer villa owned by a key member in that group. "Besides, their security people never come out here. We will find out more when he wakes up."

The Silver Star
Hermosa Beach, CA
1500 hours

Matt yawned as he worked on yet another stack of paperwork. Benny Ray had
finally gone to sleep after lunch. Matt was debating on doing the same thing. Nobody had talked about it yet, but the general opinion was that everyone wanted to go back to Costa Rica. The chopper had gone back one more time to look for the missing Rico, but had found nothing at the rally point. Radio calls had produced the same results. Trout would be coming by tomorrow and Matt fully intended to bring up the subject again. He wouldn't leave one of his own behind.

He was just falling asleep when all hell broke loose. Trout came flying through the door, followed by a full security team. Benny Ray woke with a start. The sniper tried to get up too fast, reaching for a gun that wasn't there, and nearly passed out. Matt was there in a second, trying to calm his friend down and yell at Trout at the same time. Margo came in running, her Glock up and ready until she saw who it was.

"Margo, take Benny Ray!" Matt walked over to Trout. "What the hell do you think you're doing? Who are those people?"

"I found the security breach. Right here."

"What?!"

"I'm shutting this team down, Matt. Right now."

* * * * *

"Would you care to explain what's going on?" Matt's voice was flat, with no emotion.

"I think you know. Or at least one of you does." Trout took a bug from one of his people. "We found what we were looking for. Bag it."

"I swept last week." Margo managed to say.

Trout stared at her. "Well, this little device says otherwise, Miss Vincent. It was cleverly placed. Matt, we need to talk."

"I'd say we do."

"Whatever it is, you can say it in front of me."

"No. I'm in charge here Reilly," Trout snapped at the security chief. He walked outside, followed by Matt.

"Margo, what the hell's goin' on?" Benny Ray's voice was strained.

"I don't know. Just relax, okay?"

"I helped you sweep for bugs. We had this place clean last week." Nick looked just as confused as everyone else.

Matt and Trout came back in. Neither man looked very happy. "I'm telling you, that is not going to happen," Matt snapped.

"I have to take him in for questioning."

"On what charge?!"

"Espionage. Disclosing classified information. Possibly even manslaughter if Rico isn't found."

Benny Ray pulled free of Margo's grip at hearing his spotter's name. "What about Rico and manslaughter?"

"Trout, not here, okay?" Matt said quietly. "If you're really serious, not here."

"Delvecchio, you'll need to come with us," Reilly ordered.

"What?! I didn't do anything!"

"We have evidence that you did. A large sum of money was deposited in your account. This is the same type of surveillance device you used in the DEA. You sold your team out and got one of them killed."

"You son of a-" Benny Ray started. Margo tried to push him back down. He almost knocked her over as he struggled to his feet. "Trout, we've been over this before. And I was dead wrong about him then. I'm not now. He'd never do anything like that. Rico's still alive and I know Nick had no part in what happened."

"I'd think you'd want to know who gave out your mission info."

"That's enough!" Trout glared at Reilly.

"Yeah, I do. But it wasn't Nick." Benny Ray's voice was deadly. Matt took a step closer, just in case.

"Hand over your weapon, Mr. Delvecchio." Trout's expression was carefully neutral, but as he looked at Matt, he winked.

Nick looked at Matt for support. At the same time, the security chief started towards him. Benny Ray put himself directly in front of him, holding onto the corner of the couch.

"Get out of the way."

Benny Ray held his ground. "Not a chance. With all due respect, sir-" Benny Ray's voice showed that there wasn't much respect due at all- "that's a load of shit. You're lookin for someone to pin this on."

"Mr. Riddle, you're way out of line." Trout glared at the sniper, reminding himself that the team didn't know what was going on.

"I don't care what you think." Reilly pushed past Benny Ray, knocking him off balance. Matt lunged forward, catching Benny Ray as the sniper's leg collapsed on him.

"Nick, get outta here!" Benny Ray shouted, his face deathly pale from landing on his leg.

"Don't move!" Reilly shouted, his gun out now.

Margo quickly pulled her Glock, aiming directly at Reilly's face. "I think you've done enough here. Now either get a warrant or leave."

Nick was still standing at the foot of the stairs. He was a little surprised at Benny Ray's actions. Sure, they hadn't always gotten along but Nick hadn't expected Benny Ray to openly defend him like that. Matt made eye contact and jerked his head toward the stairs.

"I'll arrest her too!"

"Sir, he's going to run." Reilly's people were a little more focused than their boss.

Nick darted up the stairs, running past a startled Autumn, who was getting the bar ready to open. She heard footsteps behind Nick and pulled a bar stool in front of the stairs to Matt's office. Reilly hit it going full speed. He and the stool hit the ground with a crash.

"Oh, I'm so sorry!"

"Get out of the way!" Reilly ordered. Then, to his team, "Seal off the building, now! Nobody in or out!"

Matt followed, giving Autumn a thumbs up. "Nice move."

"Mr. Shepherd, is everything okay? Who are those people?"

"Long story. We're all fine."

Trout went after Reilly, handing Matt a business card as he left. Matt looked at it. One of the Silver Star's cards. He headed down the stairs. Benny Ray was back on the couch, eyes closed. Margo took the card from Matt and read it.

"Come on, Benny Ray. We're going for a walk," she said.

"What?"

"Here." Margo handed Benny Ray his crutches. The sniper managed to get up,
balancing unsteadily on them.

Trout was waiting under the pier when they finally made it to the beach. "Glad you came."

"Trout, what's going on?"

"You all remember McPherson? Well, Reilly's his deal. He's been looking to get rid of this team for a while. It seems that you have been a bit too successful for him. If he gets rid of all of you, then he gets my job."

"You told us about him a while ago." Margo frowned thoughtfully. "So he's after Nick. How are we going to get around this one?"

"I don't know. But obviously this team's suspended for now. I'm to have no contact with any of you. Right now, Reilly thinks I'm questioning you about where Mr. Delvecchio is. So I'll make this quick. It's up to you to find out who is behind this. I can't help you on this one."

"We'll take care of it." Matt looked over at the boardwalk. "Look, Trout, if we were to disappear for a while, could you run some interference?"

"I'll try. Be careful, Matt."

Coronado Naval Hospital
1035 hours

"And I don't think you understand, Major Shepherd." The doctor paced her office in frustration. "I know you saw the x-rays. He needs to be seen by me at least twice a week. If I had it my way he'd still be in the hospital. A shattered femur is nothing to just brush off. And that's not counting all of the tissue and muscle damage."

Matt's shoulder's slumped. "Then there's no way we can take him along."

"No. I have to be honest with you, Major. Getting a hundred percent use back in that leg would take a miracle. For his best shot at that, he needs to be here."

That came as a shock. Matt remembered the doctors telling him that before. But somehow he had always thought that Benny Ray would bounce back like always. But this time…

"Family is important. And I understand why you need to go with Ms. Vincent. How about admitting Benny Ray into our outpatient program? He'll stay here at the hospital and I can keep a closer eye on him."

"Will he ever be able to…"

"I know what you people do for a living. I'm sorry. I think that it is highly unlikely that he will be able to rejoin your team. There's just too much damage."

"Then I'll talk to him about that. I owe him that much."

"Of course. But there is always a chance. It will help if you kept in touch. You know, call, write, anything will help. People do better with that kind of support."

"We will. And thank you." Matt said goodbye and then went out to the lobby to break the news to his people.

Costa Rica
1130 hours

"We are going into town for supplies. There is a phone there."

"That would be great. I've probably got a lot of people worried about me." Rico said with a smile. He had gotten very close to the Hernandez family over the past month. "I can't thank you enough."

"You don't have to." Roberto's mother smiled. "What you are doing against the
cartel is thanks enough."

Rico grinned. "Still…"

"You want to thank me? Then you can help with dinner."

Coronado Naval Hospital

"I'd rather go, Major."

"I know, but it's better that you stay here. You know what the doctor said."

"Yeah, I know what the doctor said." Benny Ray shifted in the chair, trying to get comfortable.

"Is your leg ever going to be normal?" Margo asked.

"Nope. I believe the doc said I'd need a miracle."

"We'll call, everyday. Nick said to tell you that," Margo said.

"Yeah. Anyone asks, I don't know where you are." Benny Ray tried to smile.

"Don't worry, this won't take long." Matt tried to be optimistic.

Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica, CA
0400 hours

Nick stayed under the piling, trying not to be noticed. Not a chance that would happen, however, since the other people there were too drunk or stoned to notice him. Finally the car he'd been waiting for arrived. Even though he knew who it was, he still breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Margo's face behind the wheel.

"Man, am I glad to see you guys."

"I bet." Matt handed Nick an overnight bag. "Got some stuff for you."

"Cool. So where are we headed?"

"Washington. That's where this whole thing started, we'll find some answers there."

New Castle County Airport
New Castle, Delaware
1244 hours

Matt climbed out of the small commuter plane, stretching cramped muscles as he went down the stairs. He followed the other passengers over to the terminal. The rental car company had a car waiting. After picking it up, Matt headed over to the small restaurant next to the airport. It was done in a WWII bomber/fighter squadron motif, complete with old trucks and a plane out front. Matt ordered lunch while he waited for Nick and Margo's flight to get in. They had taken one to JFK while Matt had gone to Philadelphia International. By splitting up, Matt hoped to avoid notice from the people chasing them.

"What's for lunch?" Nick asked, flopping down in the chair across from the Major.

"You ate at the airport," Margo said. Her patience was almost gone, the strain of traveling cross-country with Nick having taken its toll.

"Yeah, whatever. I'm hungry again."

"Glad you made it. You got the phone thing?"

"Not a phone thing, Matt. It's a scrambler, rerouting your call through half a dozen countries." Margo handed over the small box.

"Okay. I'll be back. You go ahead and order before Nick here dies of starvation."

Coronado Naval Hospital
0930 hours

Benny Ray yawned as he turned on the news. Someone had taken a bank full of
people hostage in a screwed up robbery attempt. The Cowboys lost their game. More car thefts. He reached for the ringing phone, wondering if there was any good news.

"Hello."

"How are you feeling?"

"What do you want, Trout?"

"I want to know where they went. And why you didn't go. You're still here, so it will be easy for a certain mutual acquaintance to find out."

"The second question is none of your business. As for where they went, I don't know."

"Mr. Riddle…"

"You know, Trout, I'm a lousy liar. I really don't know and, trust me, it's safer if I keep it that way. Reilly wants to come and ask, tell him to go ahead. He'd be wasting his time."

"All right. Keep your eyes open." Trout hung up.

Benny Ray hung up too, confused. What was that for? Sure there was something
going on, but whatever it is, it's way above my pay grade. Not if it affects the team, that nagging voice in the back of his head told him. What team? Right now there isn't one.

"This is it, Room 313."

Benny Ray pulled himself into a sitting position. A hospital bed was wheeled into the room, followed by an IV pole and several monitors. The sniper watched as it was set up in the bed next to the door.

"Morning, Benny Ray." The doctor, Mary Shaw, walked in. "This is Dan Carter, your new roommate."

Benny Ray looked over. "Okay. How're ya doing?"

He got a quiet hello in return, then Dan closed his eyes.

"I'll be back later. You've got x-rays and motion assessment later today."

Benny Ray watched her leave, then went back to the news. The phone rang again.

"Trout, don't call-"

"Benny Ray? It's Matt."

Benny Ray grinned when he heard the familiar voice. "Sorry, Major. Trout called, said I should keep my eyes open."

"Really. Well, we're on our way. Sorry we can't tell you where we're going to."

"Nothing to apologize for, Boss."

Matt chuckled. "Guess not. How're you doing?"

"Been better. You made any progress?"

"Zero. Nada. Nothing at all. We'll keep you updated though."

Benny Ray heard footsteps in the hallway. Several people coming and it didn't take a brain surgeon to figure out who. "Major, I've got incoming, Mind calling me back?"

"Nope. Take care." Matt hung up, concerned.

Reilly marched in through the open door, glancing at Dan, who glared back. "Well, well, look who it is," he said, looking down at Benny Ray.

"I said no visitors. That includes you."

"They won't argue. You're being charged with aiding a fugitive."

Benny Ray didn't say anything.

"Just tell us where they are and we'll forget the charges." When the sniper still wouldn't say anything, Reilly lost it. "Don't pull that Marine crap! You will tell me where they are or so help me I will take you somewhere where we will find out!"

"Everyone out! This is a hospital, not a police station!" Dr. Shaw ordered.

"You have no say here."

"Oh, yes I do. This is my hospital. Don't make me call security."

Reilly stormed out, followed by his people, one of whom gave Benny Ray a
sympathetic glance as they left.

"Interesting friends you have, Benny Ray." Dr. Shaw didn't look very happy.

"Not my friends, ma'am. I hope they weren't too much trouble."

"Not for me, they weren't. Like I said, this is my hospital. Your appointment got moved up. Let's get going."

Costa Rica
1100 hours

Rico listened to the phone ring at the Silver Star. Finally the operator came on the line and told him that there was no answer. He thanked her and hung up. Roberto came running up, followed by the dog. "Were they there?"

"No, amigo. Nobody's home. I'll try again later."

"Okay."

The medic grinned and ruffled the boy's hair. He got a shout of protest in return. The shop owner told them both to be quiet.

"What is it?"

"The cartel's men. Rico, you will hide here." He opened the door to the basement and storeroom.

"Roberto, tell your mom thanks, okay? I'm putting you in too much danger staying."

"Okay. She'll understand."

"Go, quickly." The shopkeeper looked outside nervously at the Mercedes pulling up outside the store.

Rico jumped down the stairs and found a hiding spot behind some crates. 'C'mon
guys, get back fast,' was all he could think as he listened to the footsteps start down the stairs.

Interstate 95
South of Baltimore, MD
1555 hours

Matt yawned as yet another long stretch of road unfolded in front of him. Margo and Nick were both sleeping, stretched out on the bench seats of the van. They had traded cars in Baltimore to keep from being noticed. The passenger seat next to him was empty. Matt felt a sharp pang of loneliness when he saw that empty seat, missing Benny Ray's calm, steady presence. The sniper usually claimed shotgun, joking that someone had to keep an eye on how much the boss exceeded the speed limit. Margo shifted, knocking the paperback novel she had been reading off the seat. He grinned, looking back at the woman he knew he loved. 'But how am I going to deal with that?' he asked himself. 'How can I tell her…'

A loud siren interrupted him and startled Nick and Margo awake. Checking the
rearview mirror, Matt groaned when he saw the state police car behind them.

"I can't wait to tell Benny Ray about this."

Coronado Naval Hospital
1600 hours

At about the same time Matt was getting pulled over, Benny Ray was trying to figure out how to get back to his room. Bored, the sniper had managed to get himself and his crutches down the hall to the TV lounge. On the way back he had lost one crutch and was balancing on the other one. Bending over to pick it up was out of the question.

"You really have a hearing problem, don't you." A statement, not a question.

"Hi, doc."

Dr. Shaw looked frustrated. She had had more difficult patients… just not ones this stubborn. "Look, if you want to go somewhere-"

"Ask the orderlies. I know. But I did fine at the Silver Star."

"You didn't have slippery floors there."

Benny Ray started to reply, but saw that it was pointless. This was one battle he wasn't going to win. Instead, he grinned.

"Do that more often. Doctor's orders."

Costa Rica
1400 hours

Rico looked out from underneath the pile of burlap sacks. The truck bounced and groaned its way over the bumpy road. The store owner had put him in the truck after the cartel's men had almost found him on their way to get bar supplies for the house. Now he was on his way to the capital, and from there, he hoped, home.

"Last stop," the driver called.

The medic squirmed his way out and headed for the nearest phone. "Hello. Collect call to the Silver Star." After giving the operator the number, he waited. Same thing. "Sorry sir, no answer." Yeah, I'm sorry too. No money and, more importantly, no passport. Frowning, Rico headed down the street. He looked down both sides and saw a stand offering fresh caught fish.

"Trout."

"Hola, amigo!"

"Who is this and how did you get this number?"

"It's Rico. I need help."

"I thought you were…"

"Yeah, so did I, but I made some friends down here. I called the bar, but nobody picked up."

"They're out of business. No drinks there for a while."

Rico made a face. What that meant, he didn't know. Major Shepherd could have gone on another job, or on vacation, or… The last possibility he didn't want to dwell on. But he was on an unsecured phone.

"Don't worry too much." Trout flipped through his Rolodex. "Go to 13 Jaco Street. I have a friend there who will help you out."

"Okay. See ya." Rico hung up.

13 Jaco was a bar. Rico mentioned the call to the bartender, who quickly got the owner up from the basement.

"So, you know Trout. I owe him. What can I do for you?"

Curious about why anyone would owe anything to Trout, Rico outlined what he
needed and where he was going. Taking care of the documents would be no problem
for him, the owner stated. "Just wait here for a little while."

Alexandria, VA
2100 hours

"Good thing that fake id worked." Margo started laughing again.

Matt shook his head, annoyed at himself for that mistake. Getting pulled over was the last thing they needed. He looked through the blinds, checking the small parking lot in the bed and breakfast they were staying in. "Did you find Deke yet?"

"No. I'm working on it. He's probably on some beach somewhere."

"He said he'd be sticking close to Coronado. Wanted to keep an eye on Benny Ray for us."

"I'll page him again. He probably forgot the pager. Life in Beverly Hills is so hard on him."

"Beverly Hills?"

"He didn't tell you? He met this wonderful girl…"

"I don't want to know." Matt turned the TV on low.

Five minutes later, the door to the room burst open. The first person in tackled Matt, sending both of them to the floor in a heap. "Don't move!" Matt froze. There was nothing they could do.

"Are you Matt Shepherd?" The intruder spoke in a low, urgent voice.

"Yes."

"Good. I don't have a lot of time." He released the Major. Finding himself able to move again, Matt sprang to his feet.

"Hold your fire, people," Matt ordered, eyeing the intruders. Two other men and one woman came in, carrying three large boxes.

"A present from your friend Deke."

"Deke?" Nick asked.

"There's a note….listen, we have to go." The four of them went back out the door, pulling it shut as they left. The last one out tossed Matt a set of keys.

Matt caught them, then approached the boxes with caution. Sure enough, a note was taped to the top of one. 'Matt- Sorry I can't be with you. Here's a little something you might need. Catch up with you soon. Later, Deke.'

"You know something's going on when that guy is serious." Nick opened one of the boxes as he spoke. Deke's note wasn't his usual flippant style. "Wow. Check this out."

The boxes were filled with assault gear, weapons, and cash. All of the supplies the team could possibly want, right down to personal weapon preferences, were included. There was even a sniper rifle and matching scope. Matt picked up a Glock, grinning. "He does think of everything."

"Yes, but I'd like to know where he is," Margo said quietly. She pulled out a laptop with a secure modem and hooked it up to the phone line. "Let me see what I can find."

Silver Star Bar
Hermosa Beach, CA
0915 hours

"Hello! Anyone here?" Rico stepped inside the bar. "Major? Margo?"

"Hi, Rico!" Autumn came running down the stairs and gave the medic a huge hug.
"Where were you?"

"Long story. Is Major Shepherd around?"

"Nope. He had to go out of town. I don't know why." Autumn wasn't sure what to say. She knew about the long, often unexplained absences. Matt trusted her, but not enough to tell her everything.

"I really need to get in touch with him." Rico sighed, running his hand through his hair.

"Why not ask Benny Ray?"

"Where is he?" Rico asked, a smile spreading over his face, wondering at the same time why Matt would leave without the whole team.

"The hospital. They had an accident on the last trip. Some international convention in South America."

Rico's eyes widened. "Which hospital?"

"You didn't know? He's at Coronado."

"Thanks!" Rico yelled over his shoulder as he ran through the door.

Autumn frowned, wondering what was going on. Why didn't Benny Ray's best friend know what happened? She went back to filling the order forms out, puzzling over her employer's stories…stories that weren't fitting together all the time.

Coronado Naval Hospital
0945 hours

Rico caused quite a stir when he walked into the hospital. His ambulance crew was just returning from a call. As luck would have it, one of his fellow physical therapists was discharging a patient at the same time. Rico answered all the questions he could. Most of them were somehow centered on himself being kidnapped by terrorists while at a convention. 'Must be the cover story. I just hope I don't put too many holes in it.'

"It's great to have you back! How did you get out of that mess?" The therapist, Angela, asked.

"I really can't talk about it."

"Okay. I'll see you back at work soon."

Rico smiled. After talking to his ambulance crew for a few minutes, he headed to the information desk. "I need information on a patient here. Benny Ray Riddle," he said, giving the receptionist his medical id number.

"Okay. He's in outpatient, room 313."

Benny Ray leafed through the paperback novel Autumn had brought. She had also
sneaked in some real food. 'Oughta get the Boss to give her a raise for that,' he thought. The door swung open then, an all too familiar person stepping into the room.

Trout's Office
The Pentagon, Washington D.C.
0900 hours EST

Trout watched as Deke finished scanning the office for bugs. "They got the delivery?"

"Yep, sure did."

"Thank you." Trout sighed. Worry had seemed to add years to his age. "This is a critical time for all of us. I don't have to tell you how much McPherson would love this office. I need something, anything, that will give me room to maneuver."

'Get some dirt on the guy so you can put a little pressure on him and buy us some time,' Deke translated mentally, knowing Trout would never say that out loud.

"I think I can dig up something."

"Good." Trout passed a manila envelope across the desk. "Be careful. We don't know who we're up against here."

Coronado Naval Hospital

The book fell to the floor with a loud bang. Benny Ray sat up fast. "Rico?"

"The one and only, amigo." Rico said, grinning. He walked over to the bed and
grabbed his friend in a bear hug. "Sorry I couldn't get back sooner."

Benny Ray couldn't say anything. He just held onto his friend, trying to reassure himself that Rico was really alive and standing there.

"We need to talk. I don't think here's the place to do it," Rico said, his voice serious… and a little choked up.

"Agreed."

Dan watched them leave. This was too important, the guy who was supposed to be
dead coming back to life and showing up here. He picked up the phone, attached
a miniature scrambler, and dialed a number. 

Part 2 / Return to Author's Page

 

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